For the second straight season, the play of QB Josh Freeman has changed the Bucs' fortunes. Over the past five games, he is 4-1 with 13 touchdowns, one interception and a rating of over 100 in each. But will the day come when he switches his NFL address?
After this season, Freeman, 24, has one year left on the five-year, $26 million contract he signed as a rookie.
If you are coach Greg Schiano, who inherited the 6-foot-6 passer from Kansas State, do you buy or sell Freeman as the Bucs' future? In other words, when does the organization approach his father/agent, Ron Freeman, with a proposal for a multiyear extension?
"I wouldn't do anything during the season," said NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, the former Redskins and Texans general manager. "No. 1, you've got a team here that's getting on a little bit of a roll. You've got a young quarterback. He's still learning how to handle the ups and downs with the league. It's a new offense, a new experience with the coaching staff. So let's not do anything to upset his concentration and preparation from week to week. There's plenty of time in the offseason. You have him under contract for another year. You have a franchise tag.
"It's a tough one because they've (the current staff) only had him one year. I think it's a hard discussion in the offseason about whether to extend him or not. Let's play through the end of the season and let's have that discussion at that point in time."
PRO BOWL SAFETY? Ronde Barber switched positions, but some things never change. He is among the league's most productive players and leads all safeties among fan votes for the NFC Pro Bowl team.
"I have embraced (the position change)," Barber said. "It's a way to keep playing. Like I said at the beginning of the year, I love football. It's a different angle of the game. I'm enjoying it. I'm having a lot of fun doing it."
Barber has played in five previous Pro Bowls but none since after the 2008 season. The Pro Bowl rosters are chosen based on voting by fans, coaches and players. Players and coaches vote in December, and rosters will be revealed Dec. 26.
The 37-year-old Barber, who played cornerback for his first 15 seasons, leads the Bucs in interceptions with three, including one returned 78 yards for a touchdown. He also has 50 tackles, fourth on the team.
DOUBLE TROUBLE: It's rare in college football to play a team twice in one season. That's just one of the challenges Schiano will experience in the NFL starting today against Carolina.
The Bucs opened the season against the Panthers. And Schiano, the former Rutgers coach, had the upper hand in that precious little tape existed of the offensive and defensive scheme he planned to run in Tampa Bay.
"I think it's especially significant this year because they didn't know anything," Schiano said of the Panthers. "They only speculated what we had done at Rutgers and what (defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan) had done at Miami. Now they've got nine games on video, so this is more like a first game for us because now they have what we've done.
"(The Bucs do) a lot of things, when you look at their league rankings, very, very well; like top 10. And we have some issues on defense if you just look at the rankings in some areas. So we're going to have to really try to be better in those areas and see if we can't make improvements. Otherwise, we're going to have a tough time keeping that offense under control."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected] and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.