Sunday is Milestone Game for Freeman

Freeman has shown flashes from his very first start.
Freeman has shown flashes from his very first start. /
Freeman has shown flashes from his first start.
Freeman has shown flashes from his first start. /

On Sunday Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman will start his 16th game. Though Josh took over mid-year last season, this will mark the end of his first “season” as an NFL starting quarterback. We’re going to wait until after Sunday’s game to break down Freeman’s first full season as a starter. But keep in mind if he wins, he’ll have a solid 8-8 mark after winning in his debut against Green Bay last year and winning six of his last nine games dating back to the end of last season.

What’s equally remarkable though is the way that the NFL has begun to sit up and take notice of Freeman’s gritty play and ability to overcome late-game deficits. On a seemingly daily basis more and more of the NFL fraternity seems to come around to the line of thinking that Freeman is really going to be something special.

Take for instance the opinion of former Superbowl QB Rich Gannon, who recently opined:

"They are learning how to win. They are learning how to win. Josh Freeman, this kid gets it. I really like what I see from him. He takes care of the football and he makes good decisions. There’s not a guy I’d rather have in the league in the last two minutes of the game than my guy Josh Freeman."

Part of Freeman’s appeal is that blue-collar aspect of his game. He’s not that flashy, he’s not going to just floor you with a Vick-esque scrambling touchdown. He’s more of a rumbler with deceptive elusiveness, but flashy isn’t the word. His mechanics aren’t gorgeous. Nobody will ever tape him throwing for an instructional video or make it a text-book entry on the football throwing motion. But he’s got a cannon and the ball can really get out of his hands. Josh Freeman is blue-collar. He’s gritty. He’s not the type of guy whose going to get bogged down thinking about what his 16th start means.

"“It is a milestone,” Freeman said, “but right now I’m just focused on beating Arizona.”"

Still, his teammates can’t help but be amazed by just how far Josh Freeman has come in just his first 15 games. From wide-eyed rookie to an upstart-Captain Comeback. Freeman has already made noticeable leaps and bounds. Davin Joseph recalled the team’s first impressions of Freeman on Wednesday:

"“It was like a high school kid coming into a game and trying to call the play,” Joseph said with a hearty laugh. “It was pretty funny, one of those memorable moments. You kind of had to be there.”"

That seems like ages ago. Now Freeman has grown into a point of familiarity with the Buccaneers offense that affords him some comfort and a degree of flexibility in running it. That didn’t come easily for him though, Freeman had to go and put in the work before the season started to get to that point.

"“The offseason really paid off for him, being with one coaching staff without all the changes. Being the guy from the go since we started with OTAs (workouts) in the spring, you give him more time. Everything was focused on him. He worked with his receivers the whole offseason and that made a big difference, rather than just show up and play,” Joseph said.“He’s not forcing the issue. He’s throwing to guys who are open and not forcing the ball, and that’s going to help our offense. It’s a major improvement,” Joseph said. “He’s not a kid any more. He has grown into an NFL quarterback now.”"

Josh Freeman has grown up a lot since this point.
Josh Freeman has grown up a lot since this point. /

Freeman feels more grown up too.

"“I’ve learned a lot. A big part of playing quarterback is your comfort level. You go in and prepare throughout the week. Coming in as a rookie, you prepare and put the time in, but until you experience it there is no substitute. Last year I was prepared, I knew the schemes, but I hadn’t run our plays against the coverages. I didn’t know the nuances – when a play wouldn’t be good, when to check down,” he said.“Now, that I’ve been in the system for almost a year as a starter, I have the opportunity to have the reps (in practice), to be able to go through the progressions and get through the check-downs. They throw all these protection calls at you – different scenarios. You have to spit it out really fast and still know what’s going on in the secondary and other coverages,” he said.“It’s a lot to take in at first. Last year, (center) Jeff Faine made most of the protection calls, but now my understanding of that and the whole offense is a lot better.”"

When Josh Freeman got here there were a lot of skeptics. Fans, the media and maybe even a teammate or two. But Freeman’s MO is to keep his head down and work hard. He makes new believers every day. It started with his teammates, then gradually the fanbase. Now even the national media is beginning to notice how talented Freeman is. All this and he’s still a game away from his first “full season.” The sky is the limit.