In his fourth year in the league, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman has made tremendous strides as a player and as a leader. The team’s performance of late is a reflection of Freeman’s success.
In 2011, Freeman threw 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions as the Bucs struggled to a 4-12 record and a last place finish in their division.
For Freeman and Tampa Bay, things have changed in 2012. Through Week 12, the fourth-year quarterback has thrown 21 touchdowns to just seven interceptions for a passer rating of 94.3. Only five other quarterbacks in the league have a touchdown-to-interception ratio of three-to-one or better. Four of them are Super Bowl Champions and the fifth is rookie Robert Griffin III.
But it’s not just his on-field performance that has helped Tampa Bay climb into the playoff race with four wins in the club’s last five games. Rookie running back Doug Martin said that Freeman has exemplified the leadership of a player with more than four years under his belt.
“He definitely taught me quite a few things on and off the field and how to handle certain situations on the field,” Martin said in Wednesday’s conference call. “He helps me with where I should be on my routes and what I need to do to help him out and off the field he helps me deal with the media, how to deal with fans and stuff like that. He’s been a great help to me.”
Part of what has triggered a successful 2012 campaign for Freeman is the weight he lost during the offseason, trimming down by close to 20 pounds. Head Coach Greg Schiano, in his first season with the Bucs, wasn’t able to compare Freeman’s physical shape from last year to this year. However, he said that his quarterback “feels better,” which has made all the difference.
“So much of it is mental,” Schiano said in a separate call. “When you feel better, whether you’re running faster, you’re not as strong or you are as strong, I don’t know that stuff. But I do know that he feels better, and to me, that’s more than half the battle. When you feel better, you play better.”
In 2012, the 24-year-old has emerged as one of the league’s top passers. With the decision-making skills that he has shown in throwing only seven interceptions and the improvements he has made physically, it’s easy to look past his youth. His coach said his work ethic is behind it all, and it shows on Sundays.
“He lives in this building,” Schiano said. “He just works his tail off, and has become a real student of the game. The thing that sometimes people lose sight of here in the league — he’s only 24 years old, so he’s really just grown up. He’s doing a heck of a job, and he’s fun to work with and really a good person, so I think we’re very fortunate to have him.”