EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — “Welcome to the Minnesota Vikings, Josh Freeman. Now,
how quickly can you get ready?”
Freeman’s introduction maybe didn’t go quite that way, but
Minnesota is wasting no time with its new quarterback. Freeman will start Monday
night against the New York Giants, two weeks after he signed with the Vikings
following his release from Tampa Bay.
“We’re going to try and get Josh ready for this Monday
night ball game,” coach Leslie Frazier said Wednesday. “He’s been
spending a lot of time with our coaches from the day he arrived, to prepare to
play and eventually start for our team. We’re going to see how the week goes,
but our anticipation is he will be ready to go on Monday night and that he’ll
There was no delaying the inevitable for Minnesota (1-4)
this week. Freeman was going to get a chance to start eventually after signing
a one-year deal with the Vikings last week. But the timetable was hurried as
Frazier announced on Wednesday that Freeman would this week.
Former starter Christian Ponder will be the backup. Matt
Cassel, who has started the past two games, will be the third quarterback as
Minnesota continues to look for a true long-term solution at the quarterback
position since 2005.
Freeman is last in the league with a 45.7 completion percentage and threw for 571 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in the first three games for Tampa Bay with a 59.3 quarterback rating, marks that are actually lower than Ponder.
Ponder has a 59 percent completion rate, 65.9 quarterback rating and threw for 691 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions in his three starts.
Cassel led Minnesota to its first win by going 16-of-25 passing for 248 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover against Pittsburgh, but was 32-of-44 for 241 yards passing, a touchdown and two interceptions in last week’s 35-10 loss to Carolina.
Freeman said there is “no question” he would be
prepared to start Monday’s game, but wasn’t sure he’d be starting this quickly
with his new team.
“Anytime you walk into a situation where you don’t know
exactly what the variations in the offense are going to be,” Freeman said.
“I dug up my old books, starting going through, looking at some of the
different principle concepts in the offense; the run game, a lot of carry over
in a lot of different concepts. We’ve just been grinding, some stuff sticks
faster than others, but it’s been good.”
Freeman went back to his time in college at Kansas State to
learn Minnesota’s offense. Freeman’s coach at Kansas State, Ron Prince, had
worked with Vikings’ offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave at Virginia and used
many of the same offensive concepts.
“I have a pretty good grasp of the offense,”
Freeman said. “Anything last week was just trying to overcome differences
in terminology. I have three years in college and a mixture of three years in
the NFL with this exact offense. So, it’s coming along pretty quickly as far as
understanding it. At the end of the day, football is football. How you
understand things, label things, principles, route conversions. We’ve spent
time trying to get up to speed, first day out running with the ones, felt good
Freeman got his first chance to work with Minnesota’s
starters in Wednesday’s practice after a week of trying to acclimate himself as
quickly as possible into the Vikings’ offense. Frazier said Freeman will have
the chance to seize the job as the starter for the rest of this season and
maybe solve Minnesota’s long-sought answer as a franchise quarterback.
After Daunte Culpepper suffered a devastating knee injury in
2005, the position has been in constant flux for the Vikings. Culpepper made
the Pro Bowl three times in his six seasons with Minnesota. Freeman will be the
11th starter for the Vikings since Culpepper’s injury.
Ponder, in his third year as the starter, was believed to be
the answer for Minnesota at quarterback, but his inconsistent career continued
this season when he had seven turnovers in the first three games and the
Vikings started 0-3. This will be the third time in seven years, Minnesota will
start three quarterbacks in a season.
The Vikings hope Freeman, 25, can end the quarterback
“We’re hoping he’s going to have a great game on Monday
night,” Frazier said when asked if Freeman can earn the job for the rest
of the season. “That’s how we’re looking at it. We’re not looking at the
glass being half-empty. We expect him to play well, and our team to play well.”
Freeman will be a free agent at the end of the season, and
both sides are hoping he can prove himself as a starting caliber NFL
quarterback over the final 11 weeks. The Vikings saw a potential starter
available when they signed Freeman, who had been cut by Tampa Bay after run-ins
with the coaching staff.
“I like the
things he’s done in his career, along with what he’s done since he arrived here
with our football team, the time he put in, how well he’s adapted to our
system,” Frazier said, stressing the decision was his to name Freeman the
starter. “He’s done enough for us to say we want to give him this
opportunity, which is something we had in mind when we acquired him. I think
now is the time. Our coaching staff is going to do a great job in preparing
him, making sure we have a game plan that will allow him to be successful and
allow our team to be successful.”
Freeman had started 56 of a possibly 57 games entering this
season since becoming a starter for the Buccaneers in his rookie season in 2009
as a first-round pick. He’s completed 58.2 percent of his passes with a 78.8
quarterback rating in his career.
He looked like a potential star in his second year when he
threw for 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions with a 95.9
quarterback rating. He threw for 4,065 yards, 27 touchdowns and 17
interceptions last season, but the Buccaneers drafted Mike Glennon and there
were issues between Freeman and Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.
“I guess the underlying questions I’ve been getting
from a lot of people, ‘Do I have a chip on my shoulder?'” Freeman said. “I’m
sure I do. But I think it’s more deeply rooted than just the past six months,
12 months. I just wanted to go out and wanted to be great, even deeper than
that. Leslie extended his hand, giving me an opportunity to come in here.
Everything I’ve felt from (general manager Rick Spielman), from the entire team
this is a very special group of guys. It’s a really an honor. And I think it’s
something very special to have the opportunity to be the starter for the
Vikings coming in this week.”