Continuity should benefit Freeman and the Bucs
Josh Freeman has thrown footballs to a lot of different speed receivers, although not with one who goes 200 miles per hour on Sundays.
But there he was Tuesday following the first practice of the Bucs' mandatory minicamp, playing catch with NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne.
Freeman had no trouble adjusting to his new target. The only consistent thing about the career of the Bucs quarterback has been a lack of consistency. Entering his fifth season, Freeman has played for two head coaches, in three offensive systems under three offensive coordinators and four quarterbacks coaches.
It's no surprise that nine of the top 12 passers in the NFL last season had been with the same head coach and/or in the same system for at least five years. The exceptions were Peyton Manning, who brought his own offense to Denver from Indianapolis; and rookies Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
In his first season under offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, Freeman set single-season club records in 2012 for passing yards (4,065) and touchdowns (27) while throwing 17 interceptions. But Year Two under Sullivan promises to be an even better one for Freeman and the Bucs offense.
"I think our comfort level is so much higher, and really, I speak for the entire offense,'' Freeman said. "It's just the communication, just going in each down...it's all functioning at a higher level. That comes with experience. I think this off-season, guys put in a lot of work, everybody all around, making sure by the time we get to the season there are no more of those plays of indecision. Everybody is going to be on the same page and we're not going to hinder ourselves.''
Bucs coach Greg Schiano says it's hard to quantify how much the changing supporting cast, systems and terminology have affected Freeman's development.
"It's all relative, right? If you could've been the same system all five years, it certainly would've helped,'' Schiano said. "How much it hurts? I can't quantify that. It helps to stay in the same system, particularly if it is a good system. I think he's been in some good systems where the downside is a lack of continuity, the upside is he learned a lot of football.
"All those things added up, I think really help you do better. I feel much more comfortable doing the job the second year round in the NFL and I'm sure Josh feels more comfortable in our offense. You can stand there and just listen to he and Sully and he and (quarterbacks coach) John (McNulty) communicate. Where we are today is a lot further along than where we were this time last year for sure.''
In some ways, Freeman said he has benefitted from the fundamentals taught to him by an array of coaches and from working in various systems.
"At the end of the day, it comes down to football,'' Freeman said. "You're going to have different plays, different reads, but really you can't choose what path you're going to take. But no matter what it is, you have to make the most of it. I feel I'm in a great situation right now. Sully is excellent. He's as good as I've been around calling plays and throughout the week, preparation. I've been blessed. I've had a lot of just fundamentalists from a football standpoint. It's not, "all right, do this, this and this.' It's why we're going to this, this is why you've got to make this read, this is why the ball should go here. So I've been blessed in that way and I've just got to continue to work hard and get better.
Freeman is entering the final year of his contract and is scheduled to become a free agent next March. Does he feel any added pressure?
"You've got to look at every year as a critical year,'' Freeman said. "The lifespan of an NFL player is short. I'm blessed to have had the opportunity to be the quarterback of the Buccaneers this long and I love my guys, I love my teammates, I love the set up we have down here and I think everything is set up for us to go out and play well as an offense this year. I wouldn't say there's any added pressure. You're doing something you love to do and it's a lot of fun. And you love the people you work with. The pressure kind of comes from within, wanting to compete and wanting to take it to the next level of your personal game.''