"Obviously, Fran Tarkenton and his career speaks for itself. He is a Hall of Famer," said Josh Freeman. "But the important thing is people in this building — coaches, teammates — they have faith and they know who I am as a player.” ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHTOO
TAMPA — Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman was still in high school when his father, Ron, first warned him to steer clear of anything that had the potential to poison his thought process as a football player.
It appears Freeman has not forgotten that lesson.
Though he is well aware of some of the “huge'' things going on in the world, Freeman claims to be oblivious to most of the criticism directed at him since the preseason started three weeks ago — including the shot heard 'round Tampa Bay fired by Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton.
Tarkenton belittled Freeman during an interview on WDAE-620 AM on Tuesday, saying the fifth-year pro “sometimes plays at a nice level'' but “just plays God-awful'' and has proved to that “he can't play.''
Freeman said Wednesday he had not heard Tarkenton's critique.
“I have not,” Freeman said. “Obviously, Fran Tarkenton and his career speaks for itself. He is a Hall of Famer. But the important thing is people in this building — coaches, teammates — they have faith and they know who I am as a player.”
At least one of those players ran to Freeman's defense on Wednesday.
“Everybody has a right to their opinion, but I think Josh, he's awesome,'' wide receiver Mike Williams said.“I think he's one of the best quarterbacks in this league.''
Freeman set franchise records for passing yards (4,065) and touchdown passes (27) last season, but has been frustratingly inconsistent.
A year ago, Freeman strung together five consecutive games in which he produced a quarterback rating of 100 or higher, then had consecutive games near the end of the season in which he threw four interceptions each.
The inconsistency is one reason the Bucs passed on the opportunity to extend Freeman's contract this past offseason, with 2013 the final year in Freeman's rookie contract.
Though Bucs coach Greg Schiano lauded Freeman repeatedly for his poise and performance in training camp practices, Freeman struggled in the team's two preseason games. He completed 6 of 10 throws for 42 yards and no touchdowns in a total of four series against the Ravens and Patriots, but was sacked four times, including three times in eight plays Friday at New England.
Schiano did not express concern, saying Freeman's struggles were largely the result of personnel groupings and play designs that would not be used during the regular season.
But Freeman sees it a little differently.
“Any time you have negative football plays or don't convert on third down, it's frustrating,'' Freeman said. “You go out there with a goal in mind and you want to see it through.
“Sure, it's the preseason. And, no, it does not count. But to us it still matters. I know at New England on the sidelines everyone was frustrated. We wanted to sustain something and get a drive going.''
Freeman put the Bucs in a position to do that on the first series against New England, throwing a 30-yard laser to the right sideline for receiver Kevin Ogletree on third-and-10 from the Patriots 42-yard line. Schiano described Freeman's pass as a “Hall of Fame throw'' and said the entire perception of the Bucs offense might have been different had Ogletree not let the ball sail through his hands.
Freeman, meanwhile, said the perception would have been different had he done a better job of avoiding at least one of the sacks.
“Procedurally, as far as getting everyone lined up and that kind of stuff, we were spot on,'' Freeman said. “But I think it was the sack where the guy went up under (left tackle) Donald (Penn), if I can find a way to step back and kick that one out to the back or something, it would have been nice. But, really, it's hard to (evaluate) when you played, what, eight snaps and you throw three passes. It's really a glorified practice almost.''
Nothing Freeman has done in his four NFL seasons was glorified by Tarkenton. Even if it had been, Freeman probably wouldn't have heard it. His father has urged him to steer clear of favorable commentary, too.
“He said you can't let anybody pollute your thought process, pollute your mind, tell you your great or your awful, either way,'' Freeman said. “In college it was the same way.
“And it's funny, really, because a lot of times I really don't know that anything is going on until my family calls up and says, 'Hey, don't listen to them.' So, I really have no idea what's going on. You just have to focus on what you can control and don't waver for anything or anybody. You know who you are and what your team is and so you just go out and do it.''