Competition at every position. That has been the mantra of many coaches throughout the years. Competition supposedly makes everyone better, it elevates their play, makes them work harder. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want to be one of those teams, if we can believe Greg Schiano. Strong hints were given in his last press conference that Bucs will seek to add competition even for quarterback Josh Freeman.
And yet, will this actually work? Competition works in two ways: it forces players to work harder to hold on to their jobs, and it gives the team a chance at finding better play at their position simply through chance. After all, if you never give that backup lineman a chance in an open competition, how can you know if he's any better than the starter? In that sense, the Bucs could certainly stumble upon a better player than Josh Freeman in the draft, although the odds of that happening are extremely, extremely long.
But this won't help Josh Freeman play better. When the Bucs brought in Byron Leftwich to compete with Luke McCown, Josh Johnson and Josh Freeman, that didn't make him play any better. When fans were clamoring for a veteran mentor, they brought in Alex Van Pelt as quarterbacks coach. Then, they supposedly needed a veteran mentor in the locker room, and brought in Dan Orlovsky. And now, they just need competition?
Through it all, Josh Freeman has grown in some areas, and he's certainly a better quarterback now than he was four years ago, but he remains inconsistent. Competition won't solve that, because by all accounts, his problem isn't how hard he works. From his first offseason through this year, we have consistently heard stories about how he's always working, waiting to get in the building, having to be kicked out because of league rules, organizing his own workouts with teammates. If competition works by pushing players to work harder, clearly that won't help Freeman.
This doesn't mean the Buccaneers shouldn't add a quarterback, somehow. Alex Smith and Matt Flynn aren't the answer. Weak-armed quarterbacks who struggle to pull the trigger on tough throws are not what the team is (or at least, should be) looking for. But, as I've said before, this draft has plenty of talent at quarterback. That talent isn't top-level talent, but it is often raw and underdeveloped. Drafting someone to see if he can develop may be a solid option -- although we should keep in mind that that, too, isn't really competition. If a player's too raw to immediately contribute, how is he going to push Josh Freeman? But it will, at least, give the Bucs a minute amount of insurance -- even though mid-round quarterbacks almost never pan out.
Whatever the Bucs do, the point is that competition is not a magic bullet. It won't instantly fix any issues. What Josh Freeman needs is, quite simply, more time. He's had great games, good games, mediocre games, bad games. He's not that different from, say, Joe Flacco or Jay Cutler or Matt Stafford at this stage in his development. The question is whether he can grow beyond here. And there's no way to find out the answer to that question other than by giving him the opportunity to grow.