SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. Understand one thing about Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman. He doesn’t care about stats. He only cares about winning, which is something he has not done enough of yet in Tampa Bay.
Freeman knows it, evidenced by his 24-32 record in his 56 career starts, and the team knows it, which is why he has yet to receive a contract extension from general manager Mark Dominik.
Sure, Freeman is proud is of the fact that he set franchise single season records last year for touchdown passes (27), passing yards (4,065) and total yards (4,204), but he would have traded in a few hundred yards and some touchdowns for more wins and a playoff berth in 2012.
Some have grumbled about Freeman’s completion percentage dropping from a career-high 62.8 percent in 2011 to a career-low 54.8 percent in 2012. As much as it may pain folks to hear it, a high completion percentage is not overly important to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and new Buccaneers quarterbacks coach John McNulty.
“I think you look at the yards, the yards per completion and the points,” McNulty said. “It’s just like some of these guys coming out of college and they tell you before you evaluate, ‘This guy is 90 percent’ but [some of those throws] are like handoffs. I do think to me the payoff is more than the dink and dunk. I like that better. I always have. I think Mike does. I think Josh likes it better – to throw the ball down the field.”
In Freeman’s first three years in the league he had 13 pass plays of 40 yards or more. Of those 13 deep passes, six covered 50 yards or more.
Last season, in the first year of Sullivan’s vertical offense, which takes more shots downfield, Freeman hit nine pass plays of 40 yards or more, with seven throws covering at least 50 yards. That’s more deep passes in one year Freeman had in his first three seasons.
Freeman also established a new career-long pass, which was a 95-yard strike to Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who had a team-high 24 receptions of 20 yards or more while hauling in a career-high 72 catches for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns. Wide receiver Mike Williams, who finished with 996 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns on 63 receptions, was second on the team with a career-high 17 catches of 20 yards or more in 2012.
“I think with the guys we have, if you just put it in the area they will usually go up and get it for you,” McNulty said. “[Long passes] count more than the quick one. Now we have a guy that you can throw a quick one to in Doug [Martin], and he can do a lot for you, too.”
Most NFL offenses do not want to face an eight-man defensive front because they want to be able to run the ball. Having a Pro Bowl running back in Martin, who rushed for a Tampa Bay rookie record 1,454 yards and a franchise record 11 rushing touchdowns in 2012, will cause defenses to want to stack the line of scrimmage with a safety in the box to try to stop the run. The Bucs actually invite those situations.
All that will do is allow either Jackson or Williams to get in a one-on-one matchup and create an opportunity to Freeman to make a big pass play downfield. And when that causes defenses to recoil, drop two safeties and play Cover 2 zone to prevent a big pass play, Martin has the chance to run wild against a seven-man front.
Thanks to an incredibly talented offensive line, the Bucs have a very balanced offense that allows the team to run or pass the ball with equal effectiveness. Averaging 363.8 yards per game, Tampa Bay’s offense ranked ninth in the NFL last year. The Bucs passing game ranked 10th in the league (248.9 yards per game), while the running game (114.8 yards per game) ranked 15th.
Martin ended up as the Tampa Bay’s third-leading receiver in 2012 with 49 passes for 472 yards (9.6 avg.) and one touchdown, which came on a 64-yard screen pass at Minnesota. The Bucs plan to use his run-after-catch ability even more as a receiver for Freeman this year.
While the dump-offs to Martin will undoubtedly boost Freeman’s completion percentage, don’t expect Sullivan or McNulty to do any cartwheels. There will still be a steady diet of low-percentage deep passes to the Bucs receiving corps that will result in some incompletions. But when Freeman hits on those downfield throws they will result in 50-yard plays and possibly long touchdowns.
“You aren’t going to see 80 percent completion [from Freeman], but you are going to see a lot of yards and a lot of points,” McNulty said.
More yards and more points should equal more wins for Freeman and the Bucs in 2013.
FAB 2. One of the things that helped Josh Freeman set numerous team records last year was a mental checklist that Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback used at the line of scrimmage. Instead of just lining up under center and scanning the secondary to see where the safeties were playing and identifying the Mike (middle linebacker), former quarterbacks coach Ron Turner had Freeman first identify the defensive front and try to recognize if the line was going to stunt or if the linebackers were going to blitz.
It might not matter where the safeties are playing if the three technique defensive tackle is about to blow up the blocking scheme and get to Freeman in two seconds before he has time to release the ball. So identifying the fronts and then scanning the secondary became part of Freeman’s pre-snap ritual.
It’s a practice that was talked about to a degree under former offensive coordinator Greg Olson, but not really implemented until Turner’s arrival. Freeman is continuing the practice under McNulty and is becoming more adept at calling the right adjustments at the line of scrimmage now that he has a full year in Mike Sullivan’s playbook.
“That takes reps, but there really aren’t enough reps,” McNulty said. “It happened last year for him in games, and he’s gone back and we’ve watched these games over and over again. Whether it’s blitz calls, whether it is ID’ing [the front] or knowing that he should have set his feet to the inside, we’re just trying to simulate those reps as much as possible to make him comfortable doing what he’s doing.”
Although Turner has moved on to become the head coach at Florida International University, Freeman has quickly bonded with McNulty and the two already have a strong relationship. One of the things that McNulty and Sullivan are trying to accomplish is creating a playbook based on what Freeman does best in the passing game and what he is most comfortable with now that he has had a year in the system.
“I think the knowledge part of it is good, and the comfort part of it working with him where he says, ‘Hey, this doesn’t make sense to me,’ or ‘Can we do this or that?’” McNulty said. “Mike has been great at saying, ‘Okay, if that’s what [Josh] wants to do, we’ll try to bend it that way.’ I think it’s just more of a comfort in the system because he has the physical ability to do it. I’m not trying to teach a guy how to throw a ball. I try to stay away from altering a guy’s mechanics and trying to get him to get comfortable with a system.
“He’s had a number of different systems and he’s had a number of different things asked of him. I’m sure other guys have said, ‘If you throw it like this,’ or ‘If you throw it like that.’ What I’m trying to help him with is the system. I’ve spent five years in this system. I ran a lot of this same system when I was at Rutgers. We were similar in some of it when I was in Arizona. I have seen guys struggle with it, whether it was Mark Brunell [in Jacksonville] and Jay Fiedler came in and played for him. Jonathan Quinn was a young guy we drafted up there. I know Eli [Manning] struggled. I used to go up to the Giants camp. I’ve seen what some guys have struggled with and I understand the system well enough to be able to iron them through all of the pitfalls and make them feel confident in it.”
McNulty stressed the fact that Freeman doesn’t need to alter his mechanics much, and is not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to his throwing motion. All he’s trying to do is to work on the mental part of the game and improve his decision-making at the line of scrimmage and after the snap.
“I’m just trying to make him a little faster,” McNulty said. “Just know where you are going with the ball and get your feet where you are going with the ball. If he’s covered get to the next guy faster. Get to the last guy faster – which is usually the back four or five yards deep. That’s just being comfortable with the play.”
McNulty recognizes Freeman’s incredible talent and physical attributes and believes he is going to have a great season for Tampa Bay.
“Obviously if he’s certain of where he’s going with the ball and he sets his feet where he’s going with the ball he can throw it as well as anyone in the league,” McNulty said.
FAB 3. John McNulty is not only charged with the responsibility of preparing Josh Freeman ready for an important season, which also happens to be a contract year for the starting quarterback, but Tampa Bay’s new QBs coach also has to prepare rookie Mike Glennon to be ready in case Freeman goes down with an injury. McNulty said that because the team is in Year Two of Mike Sullivan’s offense it won’t take as long for a smart player like Glennon to catch up.
“We have a great system here as far as spending time and getting the rookies ready,” McNulty said. “That goes for every position. Mike and I have started from scratch and then he got thrown in with the vets. The good thing is it’s not Year One. It’s Year Two and we kind of went back to Ground Zero with Josh and the other quarterbacks and started over again. [Mike] probably got here at the right time. Sometimes you get thrown into it with a guy that has been here for five years and you are talking a totally different language.”
Glennon, who was the ninth-rated passer in FBS college football last year in terms of yards with 4,031, completed just 58.5 percent of his throws (330-of-564 passes), but is a tall quarterback like Freeman with the ability to throw the ball deep. He’s a perfect fit for Sullivan’s offense in terms of physical makeup.
“He’s got a big arm, he’s a very intelligent guy, he’s a football guy and he’s a grinder,” McNulty said. “This is all it is for him. His brother was a starter at Virginia Tech. This is his life.”
After sitting behind Russell Wilson for two years, Glennon threw for 31 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012. While he tossed 62 touchdowns in his two years as a starter, Glennon had 29 interceptions, including 17 as a senior when the Wolfpack finished 7-6. The Bucs’ third-round pick had little to work with offensively as North Carolina State did not have a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver last year, and the offensive line did not do a great job in pass protection.
Glennon is not the most mobile quarterback, but was sacked more often than he should have been in 2012 due to sub-par blocking from the offensive line. While he needs to work on his movement in the pocket, Glennon has better escapability than he gets credit for, according to McNulty.
“It’s interesting because he moves around the pocket well enough that I think it will surprise some people for a guy that big,” McNulty said. “To be honest with you, I think he’s just growing into his frame. He grew in college. I think he can tell you better, but he grew like two and half inches in college. I think his frame is still catching up to that. He was under a lot of pressure at N.C. State. Whether that will translate into a game, I guess we’ll find out. He certainly has the signs of a guy that can handle the position.”
McNulty has been very impressed with both the physical and mental makeup of Glennon, who is working with the second team offense and has a legitimate chance to be Freeman’s backup this season.
“He has a big enough arm and he’s a very intelligent player, but it’s just understanding that there’s a lot of things that he’ll be asked to do at this level that he wasn’t asked to do in college, whether it’s protections, being in coverage or checking plays.” McNulty said. “The good thing is that he played in a sophisticated offense in college, more sophisticated than a lot of these guys that are coming out have played in.”
Although the Bucs are very high on Glennon’s potential, the team will likely keep three quarterbacks, including veteran Dan Orlovsky, who was the backup last year, on the roster in 2013 after keeping just two on the team last year. With Tampa Bay harboring legitimate playoff aspirations, the team is not quite prepared to turn the offense over to a rookie if Freeman were to go down. But if Glennon can accelerate his learning curve in August and shine in the preseason, the Bucs may change their mind.
FAB 4. One of the newcomers to Tampa Bay that is drawing rave reviews at One Buccaneer Place is Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson, who is making more of an impact in the classroom rather than the football field.
Why? Goldson is one of the most physical safeties in the NFL, and the OTAs (organized team activities) and mini-camps in the offseason are non-padded and non-contact. In fact, Goldson won’t be able to really showcase his physicality against receivers that go across the middle until Sundays starting in September.
“Turn on the film and I think the playmaking speaks for itself,” Bucs safeties coach Jeff Hafley said. “He’s got everything you need from a safety. He’s tough, he’s physical, and he’s a great tackler. You’ve seen the big hits. We’ve all seen the big hits, but the biggest thing I didn’t know about him – but I do now is – that he is a smart football player.
“He’s extremely knowledgeable and he’s a leader. He loves the game of football, and he has really shown his leadership already, which to me, is very impressive. I’m excited to be around him.”
Bucs cornerback Danny Gorrer has already seen Goldson’s impact – even though the player known as “The Hawk” has yet to deliver one of his trademark blows.
“Dashon brings a lot to the table with leadership and the way he communicates in the classroom and on the field,” Gorrer said. “He can really bring it. We know that, and he has a switch that he can turn on and off. He’s the leader that we’ve been missing. Now we’ve got him and I’m glad he’s on our team. I’m glad that another guy that we can build a relationship with and I can go to work with.”
Great players not only make great plays, but they also elevate the play of the players that surround them. That was one of the reasons why the Bucs brought Goldson in during free agency. Tampa Bay wants to accelerate the learning curve of strong safety Mark Barron, the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft.
Barron had a good rookie season with 88 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble to go along with 10 pass breakups, including one against Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez on fourth down in the fourth quarter to seal Tampa Bay’s 22-17 season-ending victory. The Bucs are expecting Barron to have an even more productive year lining up next to Goldson, who at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds is built nearly identical to the former Crimson Tide star.
“That’s another guy that is going to do big things this year,” Gorrer said. “You can tell he’s even upping his game just because he’s on the other side of Dashon Goldson, a Pro Bowl and an All-Pro safety. That’s bringing the best out of Mark Barron. You see that every day in practice the way he’s flying around. He’s starting to look exactly like Dashon Goldson. He’s in for a big year. I can’t wait to see it.”
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman is one of the most humble NFL athletes you’ll ever meet, especially at the quarterback position. One of the things he showed me at his Josh Freeman ProCamps football camp this week at Wesley Chapel High School was his F.A.M.I.L.Y. bracelet he and his teammates received from Bucs head coach Greg Schiano.
The acronym F.A.M.I.L.Y. stands for “forget about me, I love you.” Freeman said the biggest part of the team concept is “forget about me” and getting rid of any selfish thoughts. That puts the mind’s emphasis on the team rather than the individual. Then when a player is working with and for his teammates, that’s where the “I love you” part comes in. Freeman said he has never been on a team that is so tight knit before at any level, including his first three years in Tampa Bay. The level of team unity is at an all-time high at One Buccaneer Place since Schiano’s arrival.
• Although rookie Mike Glennon poses no immediate threat to starting quarterback Josh Freeman this season, Bucs quarterbacks coach John McNulty likes the fact that there is increased competition at the position. However, he points out that Freeman didn’t need any extra push as he is in a contract year and hungry to make the playoffs.
“I don’t think it ever hurts,” McNulty said. “Competition always helps everybody. I think in Josh’s mind from the day I got hired everything has been very positive and very excited. His second opportunity in this system and his second opportunity to run the team, he felt very good about what he was going to do. I think he was already very motivated.”
• Buccaneers Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson helped coach the kids at the Josh Freeman ProCamps football camp at Wesley Chapel High School this past week. Both he and Freeman shared the notion that the Bucs are on the verge of becoming one of the elite NFL teams. Jackson believes
• Tampa Bay Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson believes the team’s ninth-ranked offense is only going to be better in 2013 after a record-setting campaign last year in which the unit set team records with over 5,800 yards of total offense, while averaging 24.3 points per game.
“I feel like it has already been elite,” Jackson said. “I think we’ve shown that we can be very explosive, and there’s still room for improvement. I’m very excited about it.”
When asked what the return to health of Pro Bowl guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks means to the Bucs as they head towards training camp, Jackson indicated the team’s depth actually improved last year during their absence and that Tampa Bay is a better team in 2013 as a result.
“We want to get all of our guys healthy, but I think our offense is solid,” Jackson said. “We had some good guys step up last year from a back up position, so we’re not going to be concerned about who’s lining up out there. We expect everybody we put on the field to do their job.”
• And finally, PewterReport.com has a couple of exciting new partnerships for 2013 and beyond to announce in the coming weeks – stay tuned!
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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