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New offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan bodes well for Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Josh Freeman

Published Feb. 12, 2012

TAMPA

Every week during the offseason, Josh Freeman has wondered what kind of plan is in store for him and the Bucs offense in 2012.

The flirtation with Oregon's Chip Kelly for the head coaching job quickened his pulse. "Yeah, Chip would have been interesting, to say the least," Freeman said. "I probably would've had to get back to my speed workouts."

Freeman listened intently when Greg Schiano was hired and liked what he heard.

"Obviously, when he talks about his philosophy to win football games, you've got to love it when he talks about taking shots downfield," Freeman said. "It's great to hear."

After Schiano hired Giants quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan as offensive coordinator Friday, Freeman called it "good news" and said he felt fortunate.

Considering the difficulty the Bucs have had assembling a coaching staff — three times they were denied requests by NFL teams to interview candidates for offensive coordinator — it's impressive the team landed Sullivan.

He began his coaching career as a defensive quality control assistant under Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville. He coached receivers for six seasons with the Giants, and after Chris Palmer left New York as quarterbacks coach in 2009, Sullivan got that job.

In 2010, Eli Manning threw a career-high 25 interceptions, which led to some finger-pointing. But he also passed for 4,002 yards and a career-high 31 touchdowns while leading the Giants to a 10-6 record.

Sullivan went to work last offseason, using his array of unconventional drills to improve Manning's ability to be accurate while passing on the move.

"I won't say his drills are unconventional, but not being a quarterbacks coach before, he has some different drills where it's uncomfortable movements," Giants quarterback David Carr told the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger.

"You're not just dropping back, moving to the left and right, stepping up and throwing the ball, which never happens in the game. You move up, you sprint out, run away from someone and then try to throw off-balance."

One year after Freeman threw for 25 touchdowns and six interceptions, he took a step back in 2011 with 16 scoring passes and 22 interceptions. Not that it was all bad. Freeman improved his completion percentage (62.8 from 61.4) and passed for more yards (3,592 from 3,351).

Sullivan is said to be a great communicator, and he will work to improve Freeman's ball protection. A former Army Ranger, Sullivan has a blue belt in jiujitsu and uses a triangle design of the Gracies, the famous mixed martial arts family, to highlight three goals for his quarterbacks: decision-making, accuracy and leadership.

"It's on our quarterback guide," Sullivan said recently of the triangle design. "It's something we constantly talk about. Everything else, it has to fit within that framework. If (the quarterback is) grading out and getting an 'A' (in the three goals), we're going to win."

It remains to be seen what kind of play-caller Sullivan will be, but he has had a window seat to the Giants offense under coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

Another bonus is that Sullivan also knows how to get the best out of receivers, which will be big in stimulating the Bucs' Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn.

Freeman can breathe easier. The Bucs can, too.

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