By all accounts, Josh Freeman had an awful 2011 season, throwing 16 more interceptions (22) than he did in 2010 (six).
Although, in his defense, the franchise as a whole was ill-prepared from the outset.
The head coach was overwhelmed and often seemed oblivious. The players were, for all intents and purposes, running the show, and the overall atmosphere and vibe of the team was not very conducive to success.
The results speak for themselves: 4-12 with little indication that improvement was on the way.
Needless to say, changes were definitely in order.
Raheem Morris and his band of misfits are gone, replaced by Greg Schiano and a better-prepared, detail-oriented staff.
For his part, Freeman has undergone a physical transformation this offseason, having shed more than 20 pounds by focusing on a healthier diet, and as a result, he's noticeably slimmer.
He is said to already show great chemistry with his newest offensive threat, receiver Vincent Jackson. However, it does not appear as if he will get nearly the same number of opportunities to throw his way once the season begins.
With Schiano at the helm, the Bucs have refocused their attention on establishing a run-first offense under new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.
And while many quarterbacks may be a little hesitant to adopt a more conservative approach in the pass-happy NFL, Freeman has said all the right things thus far, telling Stephen Holder of the Tampa Bay Times:
I love the running game. There's no better feeling than when LeGarrette or any of our guys are out there tearing it up and you can sit back and pick apart a defense that's worried about stopping the run.
So, where does that leave Freeman as he enters his fourth year in the league?
For one, the front office has done their part to surround Freeman with better coaching and better talent, which is sure to make his life easier moving forward.
Secondly, the guy is simply too talented and too dedicated to his craft to not improve.
Lastly, Sullivan appears to be the right guy to coach Freeman up. That is, to teach him better mechanics, instill better footwork and improve his decision-making.
In his two seasons as New York's quarterbacks coach, Sullivan worked closely with Eli Manning, helping him to improve from a 25-interception campaign in 2010 to just 16 last season.
All told, Manning threw for 8,935 yards and 60 touchdowns during Sullivan's tenure as QB coach. More importantly, Manning led the Giants to a Super Bowl victory last season.
Will the results be as instant and eye-popping as Manning's? Unlikely.
But Sullivan clearly understands what it takes to maximize the talents of a star quarterback, and he's an ideal fit for Freeman and the Bucs' offense.
If all goes as planned, Freeman will indeed throw the ball less this season, which isn't hard to do considering he attempted 551 passes in 2011.
How many fewer passes he throws is anyone's guess at this point, but if the ground game gets going and Freeman is able to pick his spots, he is more than capable of putting up big numbers.
My gut tells me his final stat line for 2012 will look something like this:
450-470 attempts; 3,700-3,900 yards; 23-27 TDs; 10-14 INTs.
If Freeman is able to get somewhere in the range listed above, it would also impact the most important number of all.
After all, that is the only stat that truly matters.
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