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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Josh Freeman has more success in shotgun, but that's not all good

All five of Josh Freeman’s touchdown passes have come while lined up in the shotgun, where he also thrived while at Kansas State.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

All five of Josh Freeman’s touchdown passes have come while lined up in the shotgun, where he also thrived while at Kansas State.

TAMPA — The Buccaneers have made it known the franchise essentially is married to rookie quarterback Josh Freeman.

And as with any relationship, making it work means dealing with a person's likes and dislikes.

Which brings us to Freeman and the shotgun. He has used it extensively, and not just on passing downs, since becoming the starter three games ago.

There's a reason for that.

"We'll continue to experiment, and we want him to be comfortable as a passer," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "If that's in the shotgun, we'll get him in the shotgun."

It works for Freeman.

His five touchdown passes have come out of the shotgun.

But it's a bit of a compromise for the play-caller, Olson, to use it so often.

It isn't that the Bucs staff is opposed to it. It has become a major element since the departure of coach Jon Gruden and quarterback, Jeff Garcia, who disliked the shotgun.

The problem is using it too much creates challenges in the running game, an issue for a team that constantly preaches running the ball. In the shotgun, play-action is practically lost.

This story originates in 2006, when Freeman arrived at Kansas State. He was an impressionable 18-year-old, his skills still being molded. The offense called for him to line up under center — period.

Then some changes.

"The next year, it was a little more shotgun, probably 60 (percent) shotgun, 40 under center," Freeman said. "In my final year … I'd say it was probably 65, 70 percent in the shotgun."

Freeman doesn't acknowledge a preference and seemed surprised when told he had been successful when in the shotgun.

According to Fox Sports, Freeman entered Sunday's game against the Saints completing 60 percent of his passes while in the shotgun with a quarterback rating of 105. While under center, he had completed 28 percent of his attempts with an 18.9 rating.

"I would have never known it if you would have asked me which one I've been doing better this year," Freeman said. "I've had a lot more reps out of the shotgun, so I think that's the reason for more productivity. But at the same time, I feel comfortable either way."

It's not necessarily a criticism as much as something the team must work through.

"I just think he's more comfortable in the shotgun," coach Raheem Morris said. "When you've got a chance to stand back there in the shotgun, you see the whole defense and really get in a rhythm."

But the shotgun does little for creating rhythm in the running game, which ultimately impacts the passing game.

"At the end of the season, you go through and you look at explosive plays and how you generate explosive plays," Olson said. "You've got to have a play-action game. It is difficult (to call) shotgun runs. Based on your formations, it's hard to get anything going downhill out of the shotgun. So there are some limitations to the run game and the play-action game with it."

But Olson has seen other offenses thrive despite heavy use of the shotgun. He held up the Saints as an example, with quarterback Drew Brees preferring it. Olson coached Brees at Purdue and made the shotgun work there, estimating Brees used it 90 percent of the time.

And then there's the fact that football is constantly in evolution, and the expanded use of the shotgun at all levels is just one example. Most expect it to become even more prevalent.

"Nowadays, most high school teams are running the shotgun whereas 20 years ago it wasn't that way," Olson said. "So I think it's just a matter of players becoming more and more comfortable with the shotgun and, also you learn to design ways to run the football there. Miami has done it by doing some things creatively with the backfield. You just have to find ways to run the ball so you don't become one-dimensional.

"The game is always evolving."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Josh Freeman has more success in shotgun, but that's not all good 11/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 26, 2009 10:43pm]
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