Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano spoke to an assemblage of national and Bay area media at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday, and while he touched on such subjects as the team's new coaches and their approach to the draft, it was his statement about the Bucs' quarterback that drew the most attention.
"Josh Freeman is our quarterback, and I believe that with Josh Freeman we'll be able to accomplish our goals," said Schiano, matter-of-factly. "That's my belief and our organization's belief."
On one hand, that might have seemed obvious, given that Freeman is a) under contract in 2013; b) only a few weeks past his 25th birthday; and, c) coming off a season in which he broke the team's all-time records for passing yards and touchdown passes. On the other hand, it was a statement Schiano felt compelled to make due to a decent amount of outside speculation regarding the young quarterback's future with the team. The Bucs' coach said he was glad he had "a chance to clean that [issue] up" on Thursday.
Some of the speculation likely stemmed from Schiano's own comments immediately following the end of the 2012 season. Those comments were not intended to create doubt in regards to Freeman's future but may have done so anyway.
"The day after the final game, I probably said something that got a lot more attention than I meant for it to do," said Schiano on Thursday. "And really it was about [this]: At that point, every year that I've been a head coach, I step back and I evaluate every phase of our program, and it starts with me, so that takes a while. As a staff, we went through every single player in a series of evaluations. But the one thing that I believe in, whether it's coaches or players – our whole life, we grow up in competitive athletics, and that competition is healthy. So I made the statement that I want competition at every position."
As for Freeman taking the next step in his career and helping the Buccaneers reach those aforementioned goals, Schiano mentioned the importance of taking care of the football first and foremost. The former 2009 first-round pick has shown the ability to do that, during a marvelous 2010 season and for much of 2012. His final TD-INT ratio of 27-17 in 2012 is not where the Buccaneers wanted it, but it's worth noting that the mark was 25-8 during the first 13 games of the season.
Schiano and his staff believe they can help Freeman be more consistent in that regard.
"Just as we do with every guy on our team, we have a specific plan for him to get better," said Schiano. "We visited with all of our players before they left at the end of the season, and there were certain things that we thought would be good to do during this downtime. Before he left, we talked about things. I think he will continue to make improvement in his second year of going through the installation of the offense, he'll have a better understanding of it."