Josh Freeman has three NFL seasons and 40 starts under his belt, but Friday night will still be a new experience for him. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2012 preseason opener in Miami marks Freeman's first live action under Head Coach Greg Schiano and his staff, and even if he plays less than a quarter it will still be a new kind of challenge for the young passer. Fortunately, he has prepared himself as well as he possibly could.
"Without a doubt, he's got a new system," said Schiano of Freeman, whose first three seasons were all played under Raheem Morris and Greg Olson. "This is not anything like what he did before, verbiage-wise or, in some aspects, scheme-wise. I mean, there are only so many things you can do with 11 players, but I think Josh has grasped it well because he's worked very hard at it.
"And when I say 'very hard,' I'm not throwing that around lightly. He has really put the time and effort in to try to learn the scheme. If he had a year to do it, that would be fine, but he doesn't. We have a few weeks and here we go, they count. He's done everything we've asked and if he keeps doing that he's going to get better and better."
Since it is the first game of the preseason for both the Buccaneers and their opponent, the Dolphins, it is not likely Freeman or many of the starters will play deep into the game. Still, he will go up against Miami's first-team defense for some number of snaps, and Schiano thinks he's ready.
"I've been impressed from the day I took his job with his work ethic, the way he's approached the preparation part," said the coach. "We talk about preparation probably more than any other word, as far as doing all the little things in advance, and I think Josh has done a real good job of that. He's gotten better and better each practice and I'm excited to see him play in a game."
It's not likely that Freeman and his fellow offensive starters will win or lose the game on Friday night, just like it wasn't new Bronco Peyton Manning who did much of the damage in Denver's 31-3 drubbing of Chicago on Thursday. But if most of the rest of the Bucs' 90-man roster can demonstrate that they've been preparing as thoroughly as their offensive leader, the Bucs should fare well for the full 60 minutes, no matter who is in the game. Friday's game will be Schiano's first real opportunity to see if his players have truly honed in on the fundamentals of the game during his particularly demanding practice sessions.
"I think it's the backbone of your program," said Schiano of understanding the fundamentals. "If you're going to play the game of football, there are things that happen before all the elaborate schemes. You have talent, and you have fundamentals, and somewhere in between is where your performance comes from. To make it just about talent, which I think sometimes may happen in this league, I think that's a mistake. You have talented players, and if you get them to be fundamentally sound they have a chance to be really, really good."
Schiano did not elaborate on the specifics of his substitution strategy for Friday night, but he insisted that he and his staff have a well-coordinated plan for how much exposure each player will get.
"We have a very detailed set and everybody's got a different number of plays we want to see them, or a time constraint," he said. "'Twelve plays but no later than the first quarter,' all those things. Our goal is, we want to go into this game and begin to make the game-day systems, get them in place, then we want to evaluate our guys. Unlike a regular-season game, you really have to chart and watch. There will be a lot of tick-marking going on for the number of plays, number of touches, number of carries, all that stuff. That's good, that's what preseason's for."
The Bucs will open their preseason against the Dolphins on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium. The game will be broadcast on television in the Bay area on WTSP-TV Channel 10 and on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will also be carried live on Buccaneers.com.