The Bucs wandered into the 2009 season with a veteran quarterback as the starter and two unproven young players behind him. The goal seemed to be let Leftwich lead us to a few wins, a losing record and then the front office would flip the switch on Freeman and that era would begin. I don't think anyone intended for Josh Johnsonto stick his name into the mix, but after three weeks of a beating, Leftwich was yanked, Johnson was put in to start, at least for the upcoming four games.
Then, in a rout of a loss in London, JJ was pulled, Freeman was put in, and it would seem that Freeman will be the guy for the rest of the year. I would like to point out that no one has announced Freeman is starting against Green Bay, it is speculation on my part, but it holds true to what I've thought all along. I always figured after a slow start and the bye week would be Freeman's most logical first start. The appearance in London did nothing to dissuade me from that opinion.
But where does this leave the Bucs at quarterback? More importantly, how should they bring Freeman along at this point?
You see, there are several ways to bring about a young quarterback. You can either throw them in the mix right away and let them start, you can allow them to sit on the bench for a few games and then finish the year up, or hand them a clipboard and a headset and tell them to get comfortable since they aren't seeing the field at all in Year 1. We have examples of successes and failures for each of those systems, and goes to show you that the plan should be tailored to the specific player you have.
But this brings up an issue with the Bucs and their front office/management. There is no doubt they want Freeman to succeed. Freeman succeeding would mean they were right in drafting him, and the more successful the QB, I would bet the team has a chance to be more successful.
There are a few things you can do to make it easier on a young quarterback. In no particular order you can run the ball more, shorten the playbook, call plays that feature that QB's strength, and game plan away from the dangerous situations. But was this done for JJ?
You see, JJ is, for all intensive purposes, a rookie. He saw no playing time last year and was thrown into the starting job on a bad team this year. But everything you do for a young quarterback to make him successful, well, the Bucs did the opposite. The Bucs haven't run the ball more, they haven't taken pages out of the playbook, and they certainly aren't playing to JJ's strengths. I'd almost argue they've done the exact opposite in most situations.
I'm not saying this was intentional, but it makes me question what they will do with Freeman. Let's assume that Freeman has the tools to be a successful QB in the league, he just needs coaching, as all young players do. Is this the right place for him? I mean, the staff has shown no ability to assist Johnson in his development to date, and Olson was the QB coach the last few years under Gruden, and we know how that went. McCown and Johnson were both under Olson's tutelage last year (and parts of this year) and there didn't seem to be any huge changes in either QB from last year to this year. In fact, McCown seemingly hit a plateau in terms of talent or coaching and was shipped out. Maybe it's the player, maybe it's the coach. The issue is, do the Bucs have what it takes to develop a young quarterback.
I don't want to debate if we think Freeman is a future Pro Bowler or bust because at this point, we have him. Everyone has been saying "We need to see him now to know what we have. If he sucks, then we can draft a QB next year." My biggest issue with that statement is, are we really going to give a rookie quarterback 6-10 games to prove himself? Hardly seems enough time to draw any conclusions, particularly on a team this bad. What if Freeman goes out, completes 48% of his passes with a 1 to 3 TD/INT ratio, does that mean he is forever a bust? I don't see how we can truly evaluate any young player in such a short time.
My other problem revolves on the JJ situation. As mentioned before, he is still a young player who will continue to develop. If we bring Freeman in, we are essentially giving up on Johnson after 4 games. Really? That's how much time you want to give to a young quarterback who has had almost no running game to work with, missing a Pro Bowl center, and playing against two strong defenses?
I can defend a lot of things the Bucs have done and will do. I can not defend or agree with a decision that pulls Johnson and declares him unfit to be a starter in the NFL after 4 games. I understand the need to see what Freeman has at some point, but do we give him 4 games? How about 8? You need probably two seasons of data before you can really draw conclusions. Flacco was not this good last year, Ryan didn't really come on strong until the second half of the year. Aaron Rodgers wasn't studly his first few games. Drew Brees didn't light the world on fire his first few years. Eli Manning, Kyle Orton, David Garrard all had a rough start that was followed up with success to varying degrees.
In my opinion, Johnson should have been given the majority of this year to learn, grow, and develop as a quarterback. I , like everyone else, want to know what we have in Freeman, but to give up on JJ so fast makes me wonder what the reaction will be to Freeman. If he comes out and leads us to 9 straight wins, then hats off to the young man. If he decides to play like a bad version of Jamarcus Russell (or is that the only version) then it's not good, but don't we give him the time to learn and develop?
My biggest fear is the irrational and overly quick trigger finger by the fans, media, and as it relates to JJ, the coaching staff. Again, nothing has been announced about JJ or Freeman, but I don't think JJ will be given anymore starts.
The most obvious thing to point to is that Raheem and Dominik's fates are tied to Freeman, so they want to get as much out of him as they can. Let him learn early, and let him learn often. I just think it's a mistake to continue the quarterback roulette. It may work fine when you remove a veteran for a veteran, but once you get to these young guys, they need time to learn.
It would seem to be that the goal was not to give JJ a chance to learn and win the job, but to merely fill the gap and allow Freeman to stay on the bench. Johnson at this point was just a stop gap quarterback whose 4-6 week fill in was masqueraded as a chance to win the job. Johnson didn't set any rookie records, but he has shown he has the tools to play. Time and coaching are definitely needed, unfortunately, he will receive neither with the Bucs.