Thanks to his wide receivers dropping passes, Freeman's tendency to force the ball into coverage and his lack of accuracy, the Bucs signal-caller saw his touchdown-to-interception ratio plummet—much like his team's record in 2011.
Here's a look at Freeman's decline.
|Season||GP||Comp. %||Yards||TD||INT||QB Rating|
Freeman's 22 interceptions were only one behind league-leader Ryan Fitzpatrick. In addition, his passer rating was worse than quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tarvaris Jackson and less than two points better than the highly-criticized Tim Tebow.
Nevertheless, last season is in the past, and there is a fresh look in Tampa Bay this year. New offensive weapons have been added to the Bucs arsenal, including wide receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Dallas Clark.
Jackson, who was a free agent atop many teams' wish lists this offseason, will provide his new quarterback with a reliable downfield threat. The 6'5" wideout will be a great go-to target for Freeman, which is something that was lacking in the Bucs drops-stricken receiving corps last season.
Jackson caught 60 passes for more than 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011. Now, Jackson is looking to repeat those numbers, but the question is whether Freeman can do as well as Phillip Rivers at getting the ball in his hands.
To Jackson, however, that question has already been answered.
“I just see Josh as having so much ability,” Jackson said, according to Kevin Acee's article on UTSanDiego.com. "I truly believe with his tools...he can make every throw.”
Clark will also be a big addition for Freeman this season. While injuries have kept him out of 15 contests the last two years, the former Pro Bowl tight end still has the skills to perform in this league. Last season was the most disappointing of any in Clark's career—he posted his lowest totals in yards (352) and touchdown grabs (two) since his rookie year.
The Bucs were careful with the 10th-year tight end this preseason, giving him limited game action, but now it's time to let loose. With defenses likely focusing on Jackson this season, look for Clark to make plays down the middle, especially when Freeman feels the heat.
Freeman has been happy with his new tight end, according to Joe Smith's article in The Tampa Bay Times:
Me and Dallas, our chemistry has been great. He's been making a lot of plays in practice, and I'm really excited to move forward into the season with him.
The fourth-year quarterback should also be pleased with his new running back, Doug Martin. Standing at only 5'9", Martin may be easy to miss, which is exactly what head coach Greg Schiano wants opposing defenses to do this season.
Even if they do see him, though, bringing down the Bucs' first-round pick will be an entirely different task. Schiano has already compared Martin to Ray Rice, according to Rick Stroud's article in The Tampa Bay Times. Schiano coached Rice at Rutgers and has been impressed with Martin's play, naming him as the Bucs' starting running back.
With his good speed and quick cuts, look for Martin to have a big rookie season in 2012 and take a great deal of pressure off of his quarterback.
Don't expect another 25-6 season from Freeman this year, but he won't repeat his 2011 struggles either. With a new coaching staff and fresh faces in the offensive huddle, it is going to take some time to get things rolling. However, the upgrade in talent on the offensive side will greatly aid the developing quarterback.
Freeman will need to be on his game if the Bucs want to compete in a division that includes Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Drew Brees. A Week 1 clash with Newton, who scored four touchdowns in each of the Panthers' victories against Tampa Bay last season, will be a good measuring stick of Freeman's improvement, or lack thereof, from 2011.
Will the real Josh Freeman please stand up?