Josh Freeman may look every bit like a 20-something, but unlike most in their twenties, Freeman holds the weight of an entire franchise on his shoulders.
Entering his fourth season out of Kansas State and having to adapt already to his second coaching staff of his young career, Freeman addressed the media yesterday to discuss his off-season conditioning and the challenges of learning a new system.
Though he turned 24 just a few months ago, Freeman is wise enough to realize he has to learn from his 22-interception campaign of a year ago if the Buccaneers are to have a less-tumultuous 2012 season. When asked about what went wrong last season, Freeman responded rather candidly.
"Coming off a good year, you feel you can do so much more. I was throwing the ball better and sometimes you just try to force things. You've got to let it come to you."
New head coach Greg Schiano makes no bones about the importance of not turning the ball over.
"...It’s so important they named the game after it. We make a big deal about it.”
Which brings us back to Freeman and his continued development.
In 2010, Freeman threw for a career-best 25 touchdowns and compiled a 95.9 quarterback rating while leading the Buccaneers to a 10-6 record. Last season, however, Freeman took a few steps backwards and caused some to wonder whether 2010 was a fluke, or if 2011 was the aberration.
If nothing else, 2012 serves as an opportunity for Freeman to prove he is ready to carry this franchise forward. Looking across the NFL, the teams that have enjoyed sustained success all have one common denominator: a franchise quarterback. New England? Brady. Green Bay? Rodgers. Pittsburgh? Roethlisberger. The list goes on.
Conversely, look at the teams that have consistently struggled of late and they too have a common denominator: a quarterback position in flux. Miami, Jacksonville and Tennessee come to mind, among many others.
For the Bucs to take that crucial step forward and become an elite franchise, all roads lead back to Freeman and whether or not he is ready to put this franchise on his back.
Listening to Freeman speak and hearing from teammates and coaches about the time and effort he puts in off the field, it's only fair to give Freeman the benefit of the doubt. With that said, Freeman will have to demonstrate that he understands sometimes it's about more than what his right arm can do.
Sometimes it's simply about making the right decisions.
The Bucs' front office has done its part this off-season to shore up some of its offensive deficiencies by adding a veteran playmaker at receiver in Vincent Jackson, as well as a ground-and-pound lineman in guard Carl Nicks. Both are immediate upgrades at their respective positions and in theory, should make Freeman's job as the leader of the offense a bit easier. Couple that with Schiano's firm belief in establishing the run as a catalyst to an effective aerial assault, and Freeman is positioned for a bounce back season in 2012.
How Freeman fares this season is anyone's guess, as there are far too many unknowns to make even an educated prediction at this point. What is certain, however, is that Freeman cannot continue to be reckless with the football if Tampa Bay is to erase the memory of a forgettable 2011 season.
There have been far too many empty seats at Raymond James Stadium in recent years. And there's only one thing worse than being serenaded with boo birds from the stands?