Grade Bucs, Freeman performances incomplete

Now, barring an injury or a train wreck by Mike Glennon, Josh Freeman seems done here, Gary Shelton writes.
Now, barring an injury or a train wreck by Mike Glennon, Josh Freeman seems done here, Gary Shelton writes.
Published Sept. 27, 2013

TAMPA — On the morning that Josh Freeman woke up in the recycling bin, you could describe his look as, well, invisible.

Which, of course, is how the demoted Bucs quarterback got into this mess in the first place.

He did not show up at his locker during the media availability period Thursday, and he otherwise did not talk to local media. It was impossible to tell if he was being passionate or petulant, if he blamed this on a mistake by Greg Schiano or a series of them by himself, if he was determined to be good at backing up or skilled at getting out.

Nothing. Shoes were scattered around his locker, and his helmet was hung to one side. But in the middle of it all, there was no Josh.

Is this how we are to remember him? As the invisible quarterback, in Free Fall at age 25? As just another quarterback stopping by on his way to greener football fields? As a guy who had nothing to say in a season in which he had nothing to contribute?

Oh, for the record, Freeman did talk later to ESPN. Even then, he was guarded.

"The situation is pretty standard," he said in a brief segment that aired. "I can't say it's my job to try to sway votes, who thinks I should start and who doesn't. My new role is to be a second-string quarterback. I don't know how this is going to end up. As a player, you don't have much say in a trade. I'm going to continue to work because that's all I can do."

As far as Mike Glennon, there is excitement with a new quarterback and the new era he brings with him. There is intrigue as you wonder just how much rookie there is to the kid. There is curiosity as you wait for him to play.

In a way, however, there is also sadness. Freeman has had some nice moments in charge of the Bucs huddle and some that have left your face twisted in agony. In between, there was a lot of noise, but the truth is this: The Bucs have had more quarterbacks who were worse than Freeman than they have had quarterbacks who were better.

There was his first start, a 38-28 win over Green Bay in 2009. Even then, Freeman showed enough skills to make you think he was the one.

There was his Halloween win over Arizona in 2010 in which he had one of his five fourth-quarter comebacks and a QB rating of 121.8. He threw for 278 yards.

There was Seattle in 2010, the day Freeman completed 80.77 percent of his passes and had a career-high rating of 144.2. He also had five touchdown passes.

There was last year's game against San Diego when his rating was 137.5. That was Freeman's last really good day.

Oh, there were the other games, too. The loss to Carolina when he had five picks. The eight picks last year in two games against New Orleans and St. Louis. The day in 2009 he had a rating of 12.1 against the Jets. The lost look in Dallas last year when his sideline communications failed and he had to improvise.

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No matter what your opinion of Freeman is, he deserves it. He has been creative at times, and he has been robotic at times. He has been listless in too many first quarters, but he has given his team a chance in a lot of fourth quarters.

And now? Now, barring an injury or a train wreck by Glennon, Freeman seems done here. Yes, he is 0-3 this season. On the other hand, he gave his team a lead late in two of the games. No, he didn't score a lot of points. On the other hand, he didn't get a lot of help.

So was the fix in? Was Schiano ready to pull Freeman at his first chance? Or did Freeman simply play his way out of his job? You could argue either position, or perhaps some of both.

Thursday, Schiano didn't want to talk about Freeman. He was effusive about Glennon and other subjects, but he didn't say much about Freeman except this: "He practiced. He did his job." Strangely, that didn't make the team's quote sheet.

Clearly, Schiano has moved on from Freeman. If you look back at the offseason, the flirtation with Carson Palmer, the drafting of Glennon, it seems he was primed to do so. According to former Bucs quarterback Shaun King, that's a problem.

"I feel like the Bucs have failed the kid," King said. "When they drafted him, he was a large lump of clay, really good clay. He had ability, athleticism, size, he was a really nice guy. They could have shaped and formed him.

"But the Bucs never put him in an environment where he could blossom. He was just raw. He wasn't a kid who grew up in quarterback camps. They had Josh Freeman and just a bunch of guys. They never did right by that kid where he could succeed. He was never embraced by his head coach."

Then there is this. Freeman has failed at quarterback, and a lot of people seem to think there is more to it than third and 8. There have been a lot of allegations when it comes to Freeman, suggestions that he parties too much, that he lacks commitment.

"I don't think he has any serious issues like that," King said. "I've never been out with Josh in my life.

"I would suggest that he use a sports psychologist. But I know this. Josh did not play bad against New England. I'll put my reputation on the line. We can go over that game throw by throw. Josh did not play bad. Period."

Agree? Disagree?

Really, it doesn't matter. The seeds of this decision started last year. Since then, the Bucs decided not to offer Freeman a new contract, and flirted with Palmer, and drafted Glennon. All of that is permissible, of course.

It's strange. You watch Schiano deflect talk of Freeman and you feel sorry for Josh. You see Freeman blow off his chance to explain himself, and you feel sorry for Schiano.

Who knows? Maybe they are better off without each other.

Today, however, it feels as if an opportunity has been squandered. By the team. And by the quarterback.