INDIANAPOLIS — Josh Freeman has a lot to improve before next season — accuracy, preparation and decision-making. But he doesn't have to work on earning the confidence of his coach.
Greg Schiano said Thursday that it might have sounded as if his belief in the quarterback had diminished when he suggested during his final regular-season news conference that the Bucs needed to acquire more competition for Freeman.
"Josh Freeman is our quarterback, and I believe that with Josh Freeman we'll be able to accomplish our goals," Schiano said at the NFL's scouting combine. "That's my belief and our organization's belief. We've been busy working, and I haven't had a chance to clean that up.
"At the end of the season — the day after the final game — I probably said something that got a lot more attention than I meant for it to. The one thing I believe in is competition is healthy, so I made the statement that I want competition at every position. And it's my fault, but it kind of stood out at the quarterback position more than any other."
Looking rested and more relaxed than he did at this time a year ago, Schiano talked about his first NFL season, in which the Bucs started 6-4 but lost five of their last six games to finish 7-9.
Freeman, 25, is entering the final year of his contract, and the Bucs are in no hurry to negotiate an extension for the 17th overall draft pick in 2009.
The Bucs' tailspin last season included four-interception performances by Freeman in consecutive games against the Saints and Rams.
Freeman became the first 4,000-yard passer in club history and set a team record with 27 touchdown passes. Ten of his 17 interceptions came over three games.
"There is no single reason. But it is decision-making, right?" Schiano said. "He's got all the talent in the world, and we've just got to make sure that we do a good job of preparing him and he does a good job of preparing himself and you go out and play. He's got the ability. We play a little better defense, and some of those losses are wins."
That said, Schiano said the team will consider using the draft and free agency to create a more competitive environment at quarterback. Backup Dan Orlovsky, who also will enter the final year of his contract, played in only one game last season, going 4-of-7 for 51 yards.
"We've discussed a lot of different scenarios," Schiano said. "But I do think it's important Josh has confidence in his own ability. Competition, that will be the competition's problem. They've got to beat him out. He's got the position. I just think it's critical to everybody that it raises the level of the whole room."
Schiano said Freeman should benefit from a second straight season in the system of offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and the hiring of quarterbacks coach John McNulty.
"He's worked his tail off to get to where he is now, and now we're going to take the next step, which is going to be just as hard if not harder," Schiano said. "I have no doubt that he'll do it.
"I screwed that thing up by making that statement (after the season). It was totally not meant to be that. And it kind of got legs."
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.