Every NFL team has a handful of leaders in the locker room and on the playing field. Simply by the nature of his position, the starting quarterback is usually one of those leaders, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Josh Freeman is no exception.
Still, by his own estimation, that's an area in which Freeman can be – and expects to be – more effective in 2013. In 2012, he was something of a student-teacher in first-year Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan's system, wanting to make sure he had the source material down pat before passing it on to others. Now he's more of a tenured professor, and he's ready to take charge.
"Last year I feel like I could have been more vocal," said Freeman on Tuesday, during the second week of the Buccaneers' nine-week offseason workout program. "But at the same time, [we were] learning a new system. You want to make sure you've got your own house clean before you tell somebody else that their house is messy."
Freeman certainly learned quickly enough in 2012 to get some very promising results out of Sullivan's offense. The first Buccaneer quarterback ever to throw for over 4,000 yards in a season, he also set a team record with 27 touchdown tosses and led Tampa Bay to a franchise-best ninth in the league's offensive rankings. The Bucs broke their team single-season scoring record, but only by a few points, and there are definitely turnover issues to clean up. But Freeman is feeling even more comfortable in the system in this offseason and he's prepare to take control.
"Everybody's working hard and you kind of get into that mode where your head's down and you're grinding and focused so hard on stuff that you're doing," said Freeman of the team's 2012 learning curve. "I feel like I have a great grasp of the offense now. I spent a lot of time reviewing [game tape]. I was watching the film from last season trying to figure out what it was that I did well and why I did it well and things that I didn't do so well and how we can improve on those. Leadership is definitely constantly evolving with different players and different personalities. I've spent a lot of time with the guys. "
Freeman is entering the final year of his first NFL contract, and that situation could certainly prove distracting to some players. The former 2009 first-round pick, who has been starting since the midpoint of his rookie campaign, says that won't be a problem for him.
"Different people bring it up and say certain things but I'm just living in the present, focused on the now," he said. "[I'm] focused on being the best Josh Freeman I can be for this franchise from a day-to-day standpoint of coming in, meeting with Coach, watching extra film, working out and being there for my teammates. That's what I'm all about right now and that's what it'll continue to be about throughout the season."
No one has ever questioned Freeman's work ethic or willingness to put in extra hours to watch film. Being a leader involves helping other players get the most out of their abilities and thus helping the offense as a whole advance to another level. Freeman intends to do that, to get everyone on the offense on the same page, and it starts now, during these offseason weeks of work.
"One of our top objectives, from the standpoint of quarterbacks-to-receivers, is getting it to where we're on the same page when it comes to snapping out of routes, exact depth and little things like that. Maybe there was kind of a hesitation because you weren't quite sure how a certain guy was going to run it. Now it's a new year, a next year in the system, the second year and it's starting to come together."