TAMPA — Josh Freeman is still wearing a No. 5 jersey as he stands under center for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
So much for the similarities. The second-year quarterback looks like a different player to teammates and coaches who can’t help but notice Freeman’s emerging confidence.
“Josh Freeman looks like a guy who knows what he wants to do,” middle linebacker Barrett Ruud said after Monday’s opening practice at mandatory minicamp
“He’s not just going through the motions out here. He’s trying things out like pump fakes. He’s been watching other quarterbacks in this league, seeing how they play against the Cover 2. I think he knows how to prepare now. He knows what he needs to do to get better.” Freeman has spent virtually the entire offseason in Tampa, breaking down film, talking to coaches and developing a rapport with teammates during voluntary workouts in an effort to avoid another 3-13 season for a franchise struggling to generate excitement and sell tickets.
“Obviously, coming off a poor year like last year, a lot of guys have bitter tastes in their mouths,” said Freeman, who started the final nine games last season as a first-round pick out of Kansas State. “I definitely expect big things.”
“We’ve got a lot of guys on offense capable of making big plays. I think we can surprise a lot of people. I think we’re going to come out and run the ball on a lot of people. At the same time, we’re going to have quite a few weapons.” Tampa Bay’s top draft pick, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, is excited about being reunited with the young face of the franchise.
“He’s the guy Ã¢Â€Â¦ Josh Freeman is the guy,” McCoy said. “I’ve actually known Josh since high school. He was my teammate in an All-America game, I played against him in college and now he’s my teammate again in Tampa.”
“I’ve seen a lot of great things from him. He has no fear, that’s what I like about him the most. He started a good number of games last year, but he wasn’t the guy. He’s the guy now and he’s looking forward to all the challenges.” In the aftermath of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski’s dismissal just 10 days before the 2009 season opener, Tampa Bay’s attack sputtered as three different starting quarterbacks failed to provide consistency.
Now Freeman is working daily with new quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, candidly analyzing his play last fall.
Greg Olson, hamstrung by the timing of Jagodzinski’s firing, has had an entire offseason to install his offensive vision.
“The biggest difference? I feel older, I feel wiser and I feel a lot better in our system,” Freeman said. “I’m a little more assertive and more vocal. When you know what’s going on and what you’re doing, it’s a lot easier to tell other people how you want them to do it.”
“Last year, I was just trying to remember all the words going into the huddle. Now, I’m fluid, spitting the plays out and I can maybe add some little tips at the end like, ‘Watch the outside release here.’ ” While Freeman anticipates a big future, he hasn’t forgotten about that erratic rookie season and some unfinished business. He threw 10 touchdowns and led the team to its three victories, but also threw 18 interceptions and fumbled 10 times, losing two.
“We had a lot of guys who were very supportive during that time of transition,” Freeman said, “and I’m looking forward to being the leader they need. And I know I’ve got a lot of support in the community.”
“It’s awesome to know your town’s behind you. You’re going out fighting for your city every Sunday, and it’s a good deal. Now we have to go out and return the favor by winning some games.”