In 2011, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Josh Freeman had a poor season, going 4-12.
After some house-cleaning, new head coach Greg Schiano has high hopes for Freeman and the offense but that remains to be seen.
After a head-scratching 2011 season, Freeman faces some obstacles as he leads his team and tries to regain his status as an elite-level quarterback.
However, Freeman will remain ineffective unless he fixes these problems.
Based on his physical appearance, Freeman has all the makings of an elite-level quarterback.
He is strong, large, has a strong arm, and can be speedy when scrambling out of the pocket.
Yet last season, Freeman was mind-bogglingly poor.
He may have thrown for 3,592 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he also threw 22 interceptions.
He was fond of the long ball but at times, he lacked the arm to come through and make a clean pass to his receivers.
He had no sense of space in the pocket and according to Eric Horchy of PewterReport.com, was frequently throwing off of his back foot or not scrambling to keep plays alive.
When there was pressure, he would force throws into coverage and more often than not, the errant passes became interceptions.
The game against the Chicago Bears in London last year is a example of Freeman buckling under pressure and not making smart choices.
That last drive that resulted in the Bears' game-winning interception sums up Freeman's year; erratic and frustrating.
At times, fans are left wondering what he is thinking.
Greg Cosell wrote about Freeman's troubles on NFL.com.
However, his physical prowess isn't enough to overcome his mistakes in the pocket.
This is what Cosell had to say on NFL.com about Freeman's 2011 season and why he struggled:
The overall point is that Freeman’s 2010 season, while the numbers looked good on paper, was not quite as strong as the perception. There were some concerns that needed to be addressed if he was going to reach the “elite” status many had already bestowed upon him. Those issues remained in 2011, and consequently Freeman’s third season spiraled downhill fairly quickly. I remember finishing the San Francisco tape on the season’s fifth Sunday — a game Tampa Bay lost 48-3 — and being very surprised at what a poor job Freeman did recognizing and reading coverage. He missed basic reads. He left the pocket too early, with no pressure forcing him to do so, because he was not getting a clear picture of the defense. Two weeks later against the Bears, he continued to struggle with his reads, his decision making and his accuracy. Make no mistake, the erratic accuracy is a serious matter.
Freeman needs to check down more and even contemplate throwing the ball away before trying to thread the needle.
His inaccuracy and inability to step into his passes while being pressured were major reasons why he nearly quadrupled his interceptions from 2010 (six) in 2011.
Freeman needs to relearn his fundamentals if he wants to cut down on his number of turnovers this upcoming season.
Not only that, he needs to get comfortable in the pocket and learn when to scramble to keep the play alive.
Otherwise, it's going to be another lost year in Tampa.
According to the Associated Press, Josh Freeman is pleased with the new team playbook and how it will allow for the players to "step up and shine."
According to the article, Freeman had this to say:
In this month we have off ... it's going to be crucial that guys stay in their playbooks, that guys get together and work on their crafts because when we get back it'll be full speed," Freeman said.
It's reassuring to see that Tampa Bay is trying to invigorate the offense but with Freeman's inconsistency and poor decision-making, it will be interesting to see how well Freeman adapts to the new system.
With the emphasis on the run game, it will take some pressure off of Freeman, assuming it gets going.
If Freeman is unable to learn the intricacies of the playbook, he will have many problems on the field.
If he has difficulty reading coverages, how will he be able to call audibles or adjust on the fly once a play breaks down?
What about defensive packages that show different coverages pre- and post-snap?
Freeman has not yet proven himself to be an adept coverage and defensive scheme reader, so he needs to know the playbook supremely well; otherwise he will remain an ineffective quarterback.
LeGarrette Blount went down with an MCL injury last year and will see fewer playing opportunities due to the drafting of Doug Martin, a running back from Boise State.
New Head Coach Greg Schiano wants to establish a strong running game in Tampa Bay but lacks the personnel to do so.
Martin will be used more as a receiver out of the backfield and pass blocker while Blount will be a runner on first downs, according to Ryan Van Bibber of SB Nation Tampa Bay.
Schiano has high hopes for this offense but they may be misplaced; the Buccaneers only rushed 1,458 yards and nine touchdowns last year.
If the running game sputters in the beginning of the season, expect Freeman to make up for it by trying to do too much with his arm and forcing bad passes.
Tampa Bay needs to establish a run game that is consistent and productive; otherwise, Freeman will feel more pressure, a situation he does not function well in.
The more imbalanced (pass-heavy) the offense is, the more inconsistent Freeman will be. He needs to make safer passes and know that the run game can pick up the slack in case he is having a poor day passing.
If not, Freeman will struggle from the beginning.
A receiver is only as good as his quarterback.
The offseason acquisition of Vincent Jackson from the San Diego Chargers is great news but one has to wonder if Freeman and Jackson can become one of the better quarterback-and-receiver duos in the NFL.
Jackson is a great receiver, has good body awareness in space and runs crisp routes, as you can see from the highlight video.
But the reason why Vincent Jackson became a major wide receiver in San Diego is because Philip Rivers is an extremely accurate quarterback, even though he threw a high number of interceptions last year (20) despite throwing 13, nine, eight and 11 the four seasons prior.
Marc Sessler wrote on Around the League that if Jackson and Freeman are unable to have any sort of chemistry on the field, the Buccaneers will have a tough season ahead of them.
Sessler on his blog wrote:
It's no sure thing -- too many big-name free-agent wideouts seem to fizzle away. Jackson, of course, isn't playing with Philip Rivers anymore, but Freeman isn't the problem child we saw last season, either. He's never had this type of weapon at his disposal.
On the downside, if they can't get it going -- if defenses don't believe in the Freeman-Jackson duo -- Schiano's precious running attack will be keyed upon and suffer.
The offense will need Freeman and Jackson to be on the same page, now that Freeman's favorite target, Kellen Winslow, was traded.
Just hope that Freeman doesn't force too many deep passes to Jackson as he tries to capitalize on the receiver's speed and size (6'5").
As for the other receivers, Mike Williams never established himself as the top receiver last season, even though he led the team in catches.
Dezmon Briscoe, Arrelious Benn, and Preston Parker are a young and inexperienced group.
Jackson has become the de-facto leader due to his experience and playmaking ability.
Tampa Bay needs Jackson to help guide the wide receivers so that they can grow and develop chemistry with Freeman.
Otherwise, you can look forward to more dropped passes and head scratching in the huddle.
In 2011, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a terrible defense, and it had an adverse effect on Freeman.
Bleacher Report columnist Dan Van Wie power ranked the league's defenses and Tampa Bay's was 30th.
According to Van Wie:
The 2011 defense dropped 13 spots from the prior season, and the coaching staff will have to find a way to restore confidence in the defense again. The Bucs were in the bottom 10 in overall defense, points allowed, rush defense and sacks. They did not have a top 10 finish in any defensive category.
The weak defense left the team in deficit because the Buccaneers' offense would play catch-up trying to even the score.
If Freeman is throwing the ball inconsistently, an iffy defense like Tampa Bay's is not going to help him.
Rather, it will exacerbate his erratic and frustrating habits because he will try to put points on the board and cover up for the lack of defense.
The Buccaneers need to fortify their defense by bringing in top-notch defensive backs that can counter the deep pass and linebackers who can pressure opponents.
If Tampa Bay cannot cut down on the amount of points given up per game, Freeman will have hard time focusing on play-calling instead of the scoreboard.