Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Coaching carousel has hampered Bucs’ Freeman
Since he came into the NFL five years ago, Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman has played for two head coaches, in three offensive systems and for four quarterback coaches.
If you think that lack of continuity hasn’t contributed to the inconsistency Freeman has displayed on the field, then you’re opinion is not in line with that of John McNulty, Freeman’s newest position coach.
“Nobody just goes in and picks up the playbook and says, ‘Yeah, let’s go out and run these plays,’” McNulty said. “It’s a process. And Josh really hasn’t been able to complete that process yet with any system.
“And I do believe that’s a factor, because systems are all very different, some drastically so. But now, hopefully, with Josh going into his second year in this (system), he can take that leap forward and then go from there. Josh is obviously very talented. He’s bright and he’s a football-savvy guy, but he’s been asked to learn all this stuff and forget it, learn it, forget it. And I just think that’s been hard on him.”
The lack of continuity Freeman has dealt with would be hard on any quarterback. He didn’t even make it through his first preseason before the first change.
In late August 2009, the Bucs fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, who immediately began installing his own offensive scheme. Olson stayed on as coordinator through 2011, but he was replaced as quarterback coach in 2011 by Alex Van Pelt and as offensive coordinator in 2012 by Mike Sullivan.
Sullivan came in when Greg Schiano replaced Raheem Morris as head coach and brought with him not only a new system but also a new quarterback coach in Ron Turner, who was replaced this offseason by McNulty.
Oddly, McNulty’s arrival actually could add some continuity. For five years he was a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator under Schiano at Rutgers, where he ran a system similar to Sullivan’s.
And McNulty continued to run that system when he was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals two years ago, so he has a gauge for the challenges it presents to quarterbacks.
“I’ve seen some guys like Eli (Manning) struggle with it,” McNulty said, referring to the New York Giants’ two-time Super Bowl winner. “But I also understand this system well enough that I can iron them through all the pitfalls of it and make them feel confident with it.”
Freeman, who is entering the final season of his contract, is already feeling more confident. His experiences from last season and the tape sessions he’s had with McNulty this offseason have helped him develop an improved comfort level.
And it is a dramatically different offense than Freeman had been accustomed to playing. In three years at Kansas State and during his first three years in the NFL, Freeman played in primarily a West Coast scheme.
Sullivan’s attack is more vertical, a little more risky. While it might not leave Freeman with the league’s highest completion percentage, it should put him among the leaders in passing yards, touchdowns and points.
“I feel like I’m in a great situation right now,” said Freeman, who believes the offense is benefitting from the players’ familiarity with Sullivan’s scheme.
“There are so many little details, so many nuances that can really dictate the result of a play. Having guys that can already run the adjustments, it’s going to be measuring out a lot better.”
It didn’t measure out badly last year. The Bucs finished their first season in Sullivan’s scheme ranked ninth in total offense as Freeman set franchise records for passing yards (4,065) and touchdowns (27).
McNulty is convinced that production can become the norm for the Bucs and Freeman, but warns that time and continuity are the keys.
“It’s definitely a factor,” McNulty said. “A guy like Eli, it took him three or four years before he really hit it. But now he’s so comfortable that he can almost close his eyes and know where everyone is going to be.
“The biggest thing is command and control of the offense, and I’ve told Josh that. And so far — on the field, in the meetings and with the players — he’s demonstrating it. You can’t fake it, you have to have it and right now he’s demonstrating that.”