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The Experienced Back

Freeman didn't do too bad reading the Patriots defense this preseason.
Freeman didn't do too bad reading the Patriots defense this preseason.

Josh Freeman is entering a pivotal year in his career. So far it has truly been a roller coaster ride. From the first game of his rookie season you could see he had talent and potential, however he was prone to inaccuracy and extremely poor decision making in the red zone that led to many turnovers. The Buccaneers won only 3 games during Freeman’s rookie year.

In 2010 Freeman turned that around and gave the Buccaneer faithful, hope that he is our guy for the next decade or more. He cut his interceptions to an astounding total of 6 for the entire year. Correspondingly the Pewter Pirates won 10 games. In 2011 all the good feelings about Freeman imploded as we suffered through a 4-12 season. Although he started off the year alright leading us to a 4-2 record and the division lead through 6 games, the wheels came off and we lost 10 straight games. In most of those games Freeman looked downright awful. Some of that is the fault of his line. Some blame lies with the receivers who could get no separation. Some lies with the coaching staff for ineffective playcalling (Greg Olsen is my nemesis) and completely losing their team.

When I look at the difference between 2010 and 2011, however I notice one glaring difference, the absence of a veteran running back. When you think back to 2010 on almost every 3rd down play Freeman and Williams would read the defenses together and call out adjustments and protections. Williams was there to see the things Freeman couldn’t. He was there as a safety net outlet option if no other receivers were open and as a protector in picking up blitzes. There was absolute trust and chemistry between the two. Cadillac Williams made a huge difference in the success of Josh Freeman.

In 2011 the Buccaneers elected not to re-sign Williams, however we did have a contingency plan in place. Earnest Graham stepped up and filled the void left by Caddy for the first 6 games of the year. As the 3rd down back Graham was doing a very good job in helping Freeman make the right pre-snap reads and ensuring our offense was put in a position to succeed. Unfortunately in week 7 Graham went down early in the game with a season ending knee injury. This put the Buccaneers in a bad spot as at that time we had to turn to the inexperienced and truly awful Kregg Lumpkin to be our 3rd down back. Not only was Lumpkin an awful ballcarrier, but he was also not experienced in reading NFL defenses. This left Freeman to do that all on his own. Unfortunately it seems he was not equal to that task as after that week we did not win another game all season.

I would never presume to put all the blame on Josh Freeman for that 10 game debacle however his 22 interceptions repeatedly put both our offense and defense in bad positions. One of the consistent knocks on Josh Freeman is that he cannot read defenses. I’m not sure that’s a fair criticism. I’ll grant you, he’s no Peyton Manning. That being said he’s not Joey Harrington either. Josh Freeman is a good, but limited quarterback. That’s ok. With the right people around him I still believe he can be the guy that leads us back to a championship, but we have to know the value of certain positions. One of those is the experienced 3rd down back who can be Freeman’s right hand man.

Many people thought the Bucs 2nd first round pick in 2012 Doug Martin would be that guy. It’s possible that he can be, however he’s facing a pretty steep learning curve. Not only does he have to get up to speed in the running game, but also as a pass protector and outlet back. Keep in mind, as good as Doug Martin is he was not playing in a pro style offense at Boise State, nor did he face anything remotely resembling an NFL defense on a weekly basis in college. These things mean that, although long term he may very well be the guy, he may not be able to step right in and fill the role of a Cadillac Williams or an Earnest Graham on 3rd down. Is he a better runner and pass catcher? Sure. But is he the guy that can be Josh Freeman’s right hand man at the line of scrimmage before the snap? That remains to be seen. All I know is that when you look at the difference between Josh Freeman’s best year and his worst year, the biggest difference was the guy next to him in the backfield.