Josh Freeman has problems. Not, you know, personal problems (that I know of) - but issues with the art of quarterbacking. That should be obvious to anyone who watched him play in 2011, but it's hard to get to the core reasons for his struggles. It's easy to say "he's inaccurate", it's harder to pinpoint why and whether it can be fixed. Well, in comes Greg Cosell of NFL Films, who has written one outstanding article on the struggles of Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman. I'd advise you to give the whole thing a read, but here are some of the most relevant quotes (emphasis mine):
But here's the issue, and it still exists after two full seasons as a starter: There are too many plays in which Freeman's footwork and balance are uneven as he drops and sets in the pocket. He just does not look the same drop after drop. That negatively affects his weight transfer, which impacts his ability to drive through his throws and ultimately reduces his arm strength. The result is that a quarterback with a strong arm doesn't always throw that way.
I already mentioned his technique issues, but they were exacerbated by a nagging tendency to drift in the pocket, rather than drop straight back on what we call the midline. His accuracy was at times scattershot; he missed on too many throws that you need to make.
Those issues remained in 2011, and consequently Freeman's third season spiraled downhill fairly quickly. I remember finishing the San Francisco tape on the season's fifth Sunday - a game Tampa Bay lost 48-3 - and being very surprised at what a poor job Freeman did recognizing and reading coverage. He missed basic reads. He left the pocket too early, with no pressure forcing him to do so, because he was not getting a clear picture of the defense. Two weeks later against the Bears, he continued to struggle with his reads, his decision making and his accuracy. Make no mistake, the erratic accuracy is a serious matter.
As Freeman enters the 2012 season, he remains a work in progress, a talented signal caller who has yet to refine the subtle disciplines of NFL quarterback play. He's more sporadic playmaker than precise passer. There's no question he has the tools to take that next step, and with a new coaching staff, I would not be surprised if we see significant improvement.
Hit the jump for a few of my thoughts.
I picked out the negative quotes above, because I wanted to focus on what Josh Freeman needs to improve on before getting better - and the extent to which he has already done just that. There are plenty of positives in the story, too, so go back and read those, if you want to.
To focus on the negatives, though, all of these issues were obvious throughout the 2011 season - but there were also instances where they seemed to disappear. Cosell picks out the game against the Green Bay Packers as an example of the good version of Josh Freeman. He was more consistent with his reads and mechanics, which led to an impressive statline of 28/38 for 342 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The lesson, there: Freeman can solve his problems.
A more important note, perhaps, is that Josh Freeman has clearly been working on those issues this offseason. As I noted earlier this offseason, Freeman not only looks thinner, from the few precious seconds of footage we've seen his mechanics and footwork have improved this offseason. It would be hard not to improve on the mess of mechanics Freeman displayed late last season, but it's good to see the improvement in action.
Of course, the presence of Mike Sullivan has every Bucs fan hoping he can work his magic on Freeman. Sullivan, of course, was Eli Manning's quarterbacks coach the past two seasons as the veteran quarterback took some massive steps as a passer. How much of that was the coach, and how much of it was simply the quarterback? Who knows. But he won't have to do it by himself: Ron Turner has been hired as the quarterbacks coach, and former Denver Broncos quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels is an offensive assistant.
The Bucs have the support structure in place for Freeman to fix the problems with his game. Freeman also has the work ethic to go out and work on his problems. But fixing mechanical issues can take many, many mindless repetitions. For now, it's all just talk. I'm looking forward to the first preseason game, so Freeman can prove to us he's fixed his problems - or show us that this might be a more permanent issue.