TAMPA — Josh Freeman is slowly taking a firm hold of the new offense, but the Bucs quarterback also has to do a better job of grasping the football with both hands in the pocket.
He is becoming more familiar with the new terminology, but he has to avoid stumbling when re-setting his feet under pressure.
These are the kinds of things — some mental, some physical — that Bucs quarterbacks coach Ron Turner and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan have spent the offseason working on with Freeman.
After throwing 25 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2010, Freeman's production regressed last season, and he finished with only 16 TDs and 22 INTs.
The Bucs' fall was just as dramatic, from 10-6 to 4-12, leading to the hiring of coach Greg Schiano and his new coaching staff.
The Bucs begin a three-day minicamp today (which is closed to the public) that will serve as the last opportunity for Freeman to demonstrate his improvement before training camp.
"I think at times, perhaps, Josh may have been trying to do too much," Sullivan said of Freeman's performance in 2011. "I think he's a very competitive young man, he's a very talented player, and I think Coach Turner has done a phenomenal job this spring honing in on the specific fundamentals and some of the mechanics and so forth.
"We've talked about decision-making and the importance of it within our scheme and where we need to go with the football and if it's not there, taking a sack is not only okay, it can be a good thing. Throwing it away, an incompletion is not only okay, it can be a good thing."
Not all Freeman's results last season were bad. He set season highs for completion percentage (62.8) and passing yards (3,592). But there are some fundamental improvements he is making. A year ago, Freeman fumbled nine times, losing seven.
"I think there are a couple of things that are really a combination that a player is aware of and something a player does subconsciously," Sullivan said Monday. "Specifically, a big one for the quarterback is keeping two hands on the football in the pocket.
"We're really trying to enforce over the course of the spring one of those details because it's so critical we maintain possession of the ball. … That's something we continue to focus on and he's shown great development this spring."
Because Freeman was frequently under duress — he was sacked a career-high 29 times last season — he had many occasions when he couldn't step into his throws.
"It's very rare quarterbacks have a chance to take that nice five-step drop and gather and set their feet because of the rush and things that are going on at his feet," Sullivan said. "I think there are instances when he could've set a better platform and had better balance, but I think it just comes down to when there are those opportunities, when a quarterback can set his feet, that he does so. And also, having drill work, having to make those off-balanced because I think that's when a lot of those throws occur."
Turner has been impressed with Freeman's work ethic. The fourth-year pro has dropped 15 pounds without being asked to do so. And Turner, who has coached quarterbacks in college and for the Bears and Colts, loves Freeman's desire to improve.
"I think physically, he's done a great job this offseason," Turner said. "And mentally, I think he's hungry. He's eager to learn what we're doing and what we're teaching and he wants to be good. He wants to get better and he is really working at it mentally and physically. I've really enjoyed him.
"I think his willingness to accept coaching is big. … When you get somebody like that who is hungry and eager, it makes it fun."