QB Josh Freeman knows the value of offseason work and is determined to make the most of this spring and summer
Josh Freeman can give you plenty of reasons why he has attacked the 2010 offseason so aggressively, but it really all boils down to one truth.
"This year," said Freeman, "it's my show."
A year ago, Freeman was a Kansas State junior and a draft-eligible quarterback presumed to be a first-round pick in late April. He could stay in shape and nail his pre-draft workouts, but he obviously couldn't bond with teammates or learn a playbook. He didn't even know where his NFL career would begin.
Now Freeman is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter, entering into what he specifically considers the most important offseason of his career. After waiting his turn during the first half of his rookie season and then starting the Buccaneers' final nine games, he is the unquestioned leader of the offense heading into 2010. When he says the upcoming his show, it's not egotism, it's acceptance. Freeman accepts that he is critical to the Bucs' immediate future, and he is determined not to let his teammates down.
"It's my team, and I want to win. I want to get things done the right way, and I don't really feel that you do that by sitting around at home. I want to come in, I want to work, I want to be as well-prepared as I can be for when we get everybody back, start OTAs and get this thing going.
"This is a quarterback-driven league and if you're quarterback isn't playing well it's going to be tough to win ballgames."
Freeman discussed his approach to the offseason on Thursday, during a break in video sessions with Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson and Quarterbacks Coach Van Pelt. It was the fourth day of the Bucs' 14-week offseason training program, one spent primarily breaking down blitz cut-ups from 2009. After what he calls a mostly "mental" week of work, Freeman will be back in the weight room and on the practice field in Week Two of the program.
In truth, however, Freeman is more like two months into his own offseason regimen. He has drawn some attention - deserved, perhaps, but not necessarily sought - for his decision to return to team headquarters well before the official offseason program began. Though he couldn't work with coaches until mid-March, Freeman hit the weight room and threw unsupervised passes with a handful of teammates on a nearly daily basis, beginning in early February.
The 22-year-old Freeman already comes off as serious beyond his age, focused and professional and most comfortable discussing Xs and Os. The mantle of starter doesn't seem to rest heavily on his shoulders, but it has made him even more single-minded.
"I'm taking it very seriously," he said. "My drive is, I love winning. I want to win and I realize that you have to put in the work. This is not a league where you can get by on talent alone. You have to know what you're doing. You have to be in there working and you have to be able to get it done. It's definitely a love of winning."
The Bucs were 0-7 when Freeman took over the reins last year, and 1-7 after his first start, a rousing win over Green Bay in which he threw for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Tampa Bay would win three of his nine starts, losing two others in the final minute in Atlanta and Miami.
There were, without a doubt, peaks and valleys in the team's play over the second half and Freeman's own performance. The interceptions started to pile up in the middle of his run, mostly in a two-week stretch against Carolina and the New York Jets, and that brought Freeman's overall passer rating down. In the end, he found himself tightly bunched in that stat category with his two fellow 2009 first-round quarterbacks, Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and Mark Sanchez of the Jets.
In the end, the Bucs weren't particularly concerned with Freeman's passer rating (59.8), just as the Lions and Jets are surely optimistic about the years ahead with Stafford (61.0) and Sanchez (63.0) at the controls. Much more importantly, the Bucs saw a big-armed, hard-working, savvy, athletic and unruffled presence in their offensive backfield for the last nine games. They saw the glimmer of a bright future indeed.
Still, that future won't come without hard work, something Freeman clearly realizes. He knows he has to prove himself in 2010 - in fact, he says that goes for the entire Bucs team, one of the NFL's youngest groups - and he knows that starts in the weight room and in the backyard in March, April and May.
"Right now I'm focusing on me but at the same time I'm trying to incorporate all the receivers and the running backs," said Freeman. "We'll go out there for conditioning and we'll run a two-minute drill. I'll call the plays, everybody will get lined up, I'll drop back and throw it as if we're actually moving the ball. Just things like that - getting every back and in rhythm so that when we hit the ground in OTAs there's really no hesitation. You want to get all the loose ends tied so that when you get in the season there's no doubt. Let's get to it."
Let the show begin.