May 15, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) calls a play as center guard Jeremy Zuttah (76) hikes the ball during organized team activities at One Buc. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Josh Freeman was terrible last year. Huh. It seems I keep talking about Tampa Bay Buccaneers who were terrible. Well, that's happens after a season featuring a 10-game losing streak, including blowout losses to such luminaries as the 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars. As we all know, quarterback play can make or break a team - and the Bucs need Freeman to be resurrected from the grave pit of turnovers. To that end, the Bucs have added two coaches to their coaching staff: quarterbacks coach Ron Turner, and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. The latter was the New York Giants' quarterback coach in 2010 and 2011, two seasons in which Eli Manning took some major steps forward as a quarterback.
So, Bucs fans hope that Sullivan can do the same thing for Josh Freeman: improve him as a player. Unfortunately for the Bucs, that's easier said than done. Two articles came out the past few days on Eli Manning's improvement over the past few years, one written by Greg Cosell and one a transcription of Ron Jaworski's remarks. Both of them mention one thing repeatedly: Manning's improvement in the pocket and on the move. That's been impressive, and perhaps a result of Sullivan's focus on practicing throwing from odd angles and on the move - but the reality is that Josh Freeman is already very good at that particular aspect of his game. Last season he didn't show improvement in many areas, but he was much improved at avoiding the rush within the confines of the pocket. In addition, Freeman has always been an outstanding thrower on the move - his mechanics appear cleaner and more consistent when he's moving than when he has to sit in the pocket.
Josh Freeman did have problems last season, but moving in or outside the pocket and throwing on the run? Those weren't the issue. The problem was reading defenses, making the right throw at the right time, and making that throw accurately. Leading the league in turnovers has very little to do with throwing on the run. It has something to do with pocket movement, but not really in Freeman's case. Of course, there's one bit of hopeful information in Jaworski's bit:
"You know where I saw significant improvement in Manning last season? Progression reading," Jaworski said.
Jaws pointed specifically to Manning's fourth-quarter Super Bowl completion to Mario Manningham, which came versus a Cover Two defense. Manning's first two reads were covered, so he hit third read Manningham on a fade route for the game-changing 38-yard gain, putting the throw on his receiver's outside shoulder with two defenders in the area.
"Pre-snap recognition," said Jaws. "Progression reading. Subtle pocket movement. Willingness to pull the trigger. Precise ball location. You saw many of the attributes demanded to play at an elite level."
Progression reading and precise ball location. Those are the things missing from Freeman's game.
So will Sullivan and Turner improve Freeman? I certainly hope and expect so, and part of that improvement will simply be a result of more experience on Freeman's part. Let's not forget that Freeman is going into his fourth year as a quarterback, while Manning is going into his ninth. And in his fourth year in the NFL, Eli Manning didn't put up the prettiest numbers either: 56.1& completions, 6.3 yards per attempt, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. That's better than what Freeman did last season, but not by much.
But we need to look at what exactly happened to Manning in New York, and remind ourselves that not all improvement is relevant here. Freeman needs to improve his accuracy, his mechanics and his ability to read defenses. Those are, to me, the three most important deficiencies in his game right now. The Bucs should be focused on fixing those issues first.