Division champs? Gruden has high praise for Bucs, Freeman
Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, speaking to the media on a "Monday Night Football" conference call Thursday, said he likes his old team to not only make the playoffs but win the NFC South this season.
"I think this is the year for Tampa to win the division and return to the playoffs," Gruden said. "They have a quarterback (Josh Freeman) that has played well in this system. They have two great receivers, Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson. Their offensive line appears to be getting healthy, if (Carl) Nicks returns with Davin Joseph. I think that combination is as good as there is in football, and the left tackle is a Pro Bowler in Donald Penn. They have a running back (Doug Martin) that no one talks enough about. What a phenomenal rookie year he had.
"Defensively, I think we were signing defensive backs at the Pepin distributorship when I was coaching the Bucs. When you bring in Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, you immediately become formidable in the secondary. So I have a lot of confidence that Tampa is going to be a very good football team this year."
Gruden had three or four Hall of Famers on his defense, mind you, but he wasn't done. The coach also had high praise for Freeman, who has taken criticism from some, including former Vikings QB Fran Tarkenton, entering the final year of his contract amid questions of whether he remains the Bucs quarterback of the future.
"I've got a lot of respect for Fran Tarkenton, but I don't necessarily agree with his comment on Josh Freeman," Gruden said. "I live in Tampa. I've lived here for 13 years and I have studied Tampa carefully for a lot of reasons. If you don't think Josh Freeman can play, I think you're making a huge mistake. He broke franchise records for passing. I've seen him do it at a high level. And if I've seen him do it at a high level, that means I know he can do it again. You know, look, not everybody agrees. I'm accused of being too positive and liking everybody, but I do like Freeman. I wish I had Josh Freeman, I'll just say it like that."