TAMPA — You've seen Bucs QB Josh Freeman throw 10 interceptions. You've witnessed the franchise player miss open receivers and make curious and costly decisions. You're exhausted from enduring his (and the offense's) slow starts.
Naturally, you're worried. Well, you should be.
However, there's a sliver of good news: There's reason to believe Freeman can snap out of this funk. This does not have to be the story of his season, and maybe it won't.
Why? Because Freeman's issues aren't a result of an obvious lack of talent. His problems aren't fundamental flaws that take years to repair, such as, say, a Tim Tebow-like delivery.
Instead, what's holding Freeman back are things a) he did not do last season and b) appear to be rectifiable.
Take, for instance, Freeman's sudden tendency to throw off his back foot. That hasn't been a problem in the past. When a big-armed quarterback such as Freeman steps into his throws, the results often are spectacular. But his failure to do that consistently is a major reason for some of his interceptions.
Quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt is working on getting the habit out of Freeman's system. He said it often crops up when quarterbacks feel heat from defenses.
"That's human nature," Van Pelt said. "That's just the body protecting itself. When you get rattled early as a quarterback, sometimes your feet get a little bit off. So, it's just (a matter of) constantly reminding him during the course of the game to plant that foot. It's shown up a few times."
Something so slight can make a considerable difference.
Another issue is Freeman's reluctance to look at his secondary targets. He is frequently throwing to his first and second reads, according to coaches. That also did not appear to be a problem last season, when Freeman threw 25 touchdowns — one shy of the franchise record — and six interceptions.
The habit allows defenders to read Freeman's eyes (Chicago LB Brian Urlacher last week, for example) and is another factor in his interceptions. Freeman is forcing the ball to his favorite targets, TE Kellen Winslow and WR Mike Williams.
One possible reason for this is personnel changes. Freeman has had a new slot receiver the past few weeks in Preston Parker. Dezmon Briscoe, who has taken a lot of snaps at flanker, barely played last season. And rookie TE Luke Stocker missed all of training camp due to a right hip injury.
In any event, this bye week is a chance to try to resolve these issues. And it's a chance for Freeman to get away from the game. For a guy who appears to be putting too much on his shoulders — trying too hard to throw touchdowns, according to coach Raheem Morris — that's a very good thing.
Another reason for optimism: Other indicators say Freeman is not that far off from last season's performance. He's completing exactly the same percentage of passes (61). And he is on pace to throw for nearly 4,000 yards, up from 3,451 last season.
This is the NFL, and playing quarterback in this league might be the most difficult job in sports. So there are never guarantees.
But it won't take much for Freeman to come out of this. Heaven knows there are a host of apprehensive fans hoping he does.
GETTING ALONG: There's a rumor buzzing around town suggesting there's a feud between Freeman and Winslow.
The rumor is unsubstantiated, at best.
It stems from an in-game dispute between them during a win over the Saints two weeks ago. Freeman had just missed Winslow with a wayward pass, and they had what Winslow described as a "heated" discussion.
Here's the thing: There's nothing else that indicates there's anything going on. People at One Buc Place insist there isn't a problem, and there hasn't been anything in the locker room — where reporters are present every day — to suggest there's an issue.
Yes, Freeman has forced balls to Winslow. But the reason isn't because Winslow has been demanding it. Those bad decisions by Freeman have been exactly that and nothing more.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]com.