Greg Schiano began his tenure as the Buccaneers’ head coach yesterday afternoon with a little bit of style, delivering some inspiring remarks at his introductory press conference and promising the Tampa Bay area a team they could be proud of.
Tampa is always proud of their Buccaneers, but in order for Schiano to connect on his promise like he intended it, he’s got a lot of work ahead of him. On offense the questions facing Schiano will more likely have to be answered by a triumvirate of Schiano, Mark Dominik and whoever the eventual choice of offensive coordinator is. Schiano does not have an offensive pedigree, but does intend to be hands on in all three phases, but more than likely a lot of these issues will also fall to the OC and Dominik.
Here is the biggest question, bar none, facing the Buccaneers at the start of the Greg Schiano era:
How do you put Josh Freeman in the best position to succeed?
The Buccaneers offense is going to live and die by its young signal caller. Freeman brings a high-end skill-set and has all the tools to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL, but he’s not perfect. Last year the Buccaneers saw Freeman fail to progress much, his decision making didn’t improve from 2010 and he was held accountable a lot more frequently in 2011 than when he got away with many of the same decisions and throws a year before to the tune of 25 touchdowns and just six picks. There’s nothing wrong with Freeman, but Schiano does need to take special care that Freeman is in the best possible position to succeed.
A big part of that will come from his choice of coaches, both a coordinator and a quarterbacks coach. Freeman is going to need coaches who can teach him to improve the mental parts of his game first and foremost. They need a coach that is going to teach to his football intellect and not cater as much to his physical abilities. Obviously fundamentals are important, but he has to improve his work in the film room, he has to get better pre-snap with his adjustments and the way he reads defenses both before and during the play, basically he needs a student of the game to teach him to be a better student of the game. Those two hires will be essential.
But it needs to be more than that, Schiano’s stated offensive philosophy is to pound the rock and take deep shots. That may work as an abstract philosophy but success in the NFL stems from pragmatism. Bill Belichick is the best coach in football because he’s adaptable, his teams shift shapes into whatever is needed that year, even that week. There is no adherence to a strict philosophy. They adapt to personnel and need.
Josh Freeman may not be best suited for Schiano’s stated style of offense, at least not immediately.
Early on in his career Freeman has succeeded when he gets in rhythm, he’s frankly better in a no-huddle and he’s at his best when he’s improvising. While he does eventually need to develop into a more mature quarterback, for now he’s incredibly effective when he’s utilized properly.
It’s too early to criticize, but based on what Schiano described, that’s not utilizing Freeman properly. Schiano is discussing a disciplined, ball-control, power offense. That’s great news for LeGarrette Blount, it’s not good news for a guy like Freeman.
Again, Schiano could go a totally different direction from what he said on Friday, and hopefully that’s what he does. Because Josh Freeman would likely do well in a higher-tempo offense that does occasionally go no-huddle and can spread the field a little bit. He’s built more for an offense like Green Bay or New Orleans run than a Parcells-era, Dan Henning offense.
That harkens back to the choice of coordinator and why that will be so important, not just for developing Freeman as a player but for building an offense around him that plays to his strengths and hides his shortcomings. I’ve said when I was discussing Rob Chudzinski in the past that what he did with Cam Newton last year should be the new standard for designing an offense. People who think Cam Newton had his success last year simply because he’s an amazing athlete are dead wrong. Obviously that helped but in any other offensive system Newton probably doesn’t even come close to his 2011 performance. The offense Carolina ran wasn’t just geared to Newton, it was practically designed for him from the ground up.
Chudzinski watched every snap Newton had taken since high school and looked at everything the quarterback did well, and all the things he was still developing. He saw a quarterback that liked to roll out in certain situations, a player who was more comfortable throwing in some situations than others. He saw what routes Newton loved to throw to and what routes he ignored, he saw all the ways Cam Newton could succeed and then built an offense that put Newton in those conditions as frequently as possible.
That’s the kind of approach the Bucs need with Freeman. They don’t need some coordinator who’s going to come in with a predefined offensive playbook and then try to fit the Bucs into it, or even cater it to the Bucs. They need a coach who is going to design an offense from the ground up with the Bucs strengths and weaknesses in mind. That kind of adaptivity is crucial to success in the NFL and crucial to Josh Freeman developing into a franchise quarterback.
The biggest question facing Greg Schiano in Tampa is Josh Freeman. It’s up to the rookie head coach to put the promising young quarterback in the best position to succeed.
His entire job, in all likelihood, depends on it.