You watch Josh Freeman play quarterback for the Bucs and you see a kid who, at the moment, looks lost.
He looks confused. Out of sorts.
Here's the best way to put it: He looks like someone with no confidence.
Some of that, of course, is Freeman's doing. He can be wildly inconsistent and you are what your record says you are. Freeman is 24-32 as a starter with zero playoff appearances. Add up those numbers and it's easy to see why Freeman might be struggling as much mentally as he is physically.
But don't put this all on Freeman.
Quite frankly, the organization has left this guy out in the cold.
The coach has given him lukewarm support. The general manager drafted a quarterback in the third round of this year's draft. And ownership has not made a move to sign Freeman to a long-term contract.
No wonder Freeman doesn't have any confidence in himself. His own team doesn't.
And when such mixed messages come out of Tampa Bay, it's chic for the rest of the country — Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton, ESPN QB guru Ron Jaworski, Ronde Barber and just about anyone who talks or writes about football —to pile on Freeman, calling him everything from enigmatic to awful.
You don't think that Freeman hears that stuff? Of course he does. But, he can't tell Tarkenton to shut up. He can't tell Jaworski to stick it in his ear. He has to take the high road.
But Freeman's teammates can do something about it. So can his coach. Yet I'm still waiting for someone — anyone — with the Bucs, other than defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, to stand up and angrily scream, "Enough! Josh is our man!''
I wonder if Freeman has noticed the silence.
When coach Greg Schiano was asked about Tarkenton's comments, he dismissed them as if he hadn't heard them. Then he added that he wasn't surprised because quarterbacks are always criticized and the only people who matter are Freeman's teammates. That's true.
But it still was a perfect time, just like a dozen times before, when Schiano could have made it clear how much he believed in Freeman. He could've said, "To heck with Fran Tarkenton and anyone who doesn't like Josh Freeman. They're all fools. Just you wait and see what kind of year he is going to have!''
Look, maybe Freeman is missing that special something-something, that intangible that is the difference between the elite and the middle-of-the-pack quarterback. He is missing that swag, that air of confidence,
Maybe Freeman doesn't have "it.'' But the Bucs have done very little to help him get "it.''
A day after last season ended, Schiano said he wanted to see competition at all positions, including quarterback. Maybe that didn't come out like Schiano meant, but that's when support for Freeman seemingly started to waver, especially considering Freeman wasn't Schiano's guy. Schiano didn't draft him. He inherited him.
Later, when asked if he was married to Freeman, Schiano said he wasn't married to any player. That fueled more doubt and more speculation.
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Schiano insists that his relationship with Freeman is on solid ground, that he likes Freeman. He has repeated that time and time again. But then the Bucs went out and drafted quarterback Mike Glennon, a player Schiano heavily recruited out of high school. Then Schiano, again maybe not realizing how his remarks might be taken, said he would "not be against'' Glennon winning the starting quarterback job.
So after all of that, as well as a poor preseason, Freeman's confidence has to be in the toilet, doesn't it?
"Well, I don't know if you can assume that his confidence is shaken,'' Schiano said Tuesday. "I'm not sure it is, to tell you the truth.''
Schiano said Freeman looks good in practice. Schiano said Freeman has never been more comfortable in this offense. Schiano said Freeman will be fine.
Still, there's this final missing piece of the puzzle: the Bucs have made no real attempt to sign Freeman to a long-term deal as he enters the final year of his current contract.
The Bucs could always put a franchise tag on him, so it's not like they are risking him getting away if they want to keep him.
But, let's be completely honest here, we all know why they haven't signed Freeman to a long-term contract:
They still aren't sure about him. They're still not sold. They are not all in.
The last thing they want is another Mark Sanchez situation. The Jets signed Sanchez to a long-term deal and now they're stuck with an overpaid, overrated bust of a QB.
Maybe the Bucs are being smart about not committing to Freeman. Maybe they can't publicly support him with a straight face. Maybe Freeman can't play.
Maybe he isn't the long-term solution.
But pretending he is might not be a bad thing. I'm not saying they need to commit $100 million to him just to make him feel better, but perhaps they can go out of their way to show a little more support because, right now, he's their best option. Really, he's the only option if there's any hope of making the playoffs.
The regular season starts in 11 days and Freeman will be behind center.
It's high time the organization is behind him.