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Friday, Nov 17, 2017
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: It's time for Bucs to free up Freeman

TAMPA - Forget RGIII. What about JFI? Sunday, the Bucs face the high-scoring Redskins and their star rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III. Coincidentally, the Bucs bump into their last head coach, Raheem Morris, who now coaches Washington's defensive backs and who in 2009 hand picked the Bucs franchise quarterback of the future, Josh Freeman. Well, after three weeks, the Bucs are last in the National Football League in passing, last in total offense and Josh Freeman is in Greg Schiano's lock box. And that is no way for this football team to win more than it loses. Ball control is one thing. Quarterback control is another. Trying to establish the run shouldn't be at the expense of trying to establish your quarterback.
Let the kid play. Morris used to say it's all about 5. The Bucs might still insist that, but they're not playing like it. All those extra pieces they picked up this offseason, from free agency and the draft, were supposed to help surround Freeman with what he needed for an accurate answer to the question: Which is the real Freeman, the 2010 Josh who threw all those touchdowns in 2010, at his best with the game on the line, or the 2011 Freeman who threw all those picks? How can we get any kind of answer out of a game like Sunday in Dallas? The Bucs have been competitive in all three of their games, but Freeman is going to have to be freed up more if the Bucs want to be the ones kneeling down at the end of games. I don't see how turning No. 5 into the day watchman for this offense is getting the most out of him. He's a puppet on a string right now, seemingly bent on not making mistakes more than making plays. And as we saw in 2010, and the Giants game a few weeks ago, Josh Freeman can make plays, especially on the fly, and you can't do that in this league unless you've got the goods. If you handcuff your quarterback like this, you better have one hell of a consistent running attack or defense. The Bucs have neither at the moment. Actually, it's more about control than a specific lack of trust of Freeman. For Schiano, a conservative, time of possession, defensive approach worked for him in college, at least enough to get him the Bucs job. He wasn't known for quarterback building. You can do that in college, where the coach is the program. Then again, think Baylor didn't make adjustments to accommodate RGIII wondrous talent? You can have a core philosophy in the NFL. You should. But you have to allow for a quarterback's skill set. The Bucs have already played two 16-10 games, splitting them. They've been competitive. And that's progress. But the best offensive approach was when Freeman opened it up and took more shots. The Bucs went and got him help. But what's the point if he's Captain Ball Control? The Bucs need Freeman at quarterback, not traffic cop. Freeman on the loose, or looser, is the way to go. It's his strength. The Bucs should play to it. If it doesn't work out then, well, it's on Freeman, but at least it would have been a fair fight. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was asked about working with a first-year "franchise" quarterback. "You want to give him the opportunity to learn on the job and show everybody what they can do," Shanahan said, "but you look at the history and you'd better not put all the pressure on the quarterback. You better have a great defense and a great rushing offense." Josh Freeman isn't in his first season. He's in his fourth. He shouldn't be a puppet. Let him pull more strings.
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