Slimmer Freeman ready to energize offense

BY foxsports • May 15, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. – The first thing you notice about Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman these days is his lean physique, some 15 pounds lighter from a rigorous off-season training regimen and a new diet that eliminated all those late-night runs for fast food.

But in addition to his slimmer 6-foot-6, 245 frame, you can’t help but notice the smile on his face — a sharp contrast to the stoic, serious expression he often wore last season, a a difficult one for him and his 4-12 team.

Of course, Freeman has reason to feel good when he surveys the field and sees the upgrades that could make life much more enjoyable in 2012.

First and foremost are players such as former San Diego Chargers Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson, offensive guard Carl Nicks, who was signed after a standout career with the New Orleans Saints, and rookie tailback Doug Martin, the No. 1 draft pick from Boise State who’ll share rushing duties with incumbent LeGarrette Blount.

Freeman especially likes how the new guys will open up possibilities across the board, such as third-year wide receiver Mike Williams, who slumped last season after a huge rookie season in 2010, and deep-threat Arrelious Benn.

“This offense is allowing a lot of guys to step up and shine,” he said. “There are so many different venues for these guys to display their big talents. Whether it’s intermediate routes, option routes, going deep — we’re going to give everybody a chance to make plays. And this offense will allow Mike to complement Vincent or Vincent to complement (Benn).

“Everybody kind of plays off each other. A lot of confusion — we try to wreak havoc in the secondary as far (as) making everything look the same and breaking it into different concepts.”

Freeman especially likes the potential of the two-headed monster rushing attack of the 6-0, 247-pound Blount and 5-9, 213-pound Martin.

“It’s going to be great,” he said. “. . . When you look at the Giants the last few years, they’ve had (Ahmad) Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, and they’ve been able to complement each other and do a lot of things.”

Head coach Greg Schiano’s belief in a strong running attack to set up the passing game and shots downfield appeals to Freeman. “I love that,” he said. “It instills a mentality up front as an offense — ‘We’re going to down there, and we’re going to run the ball down your throat.’ That’s the mentality we’re trying to get, especially in the red zone. We want (to) pound it in.”

The process of absorbing and grasping Schiano’s offense is ongoing, but Freeman says the team is making strides. “The stuff they’ve given us from the first minicamp in Phase One to getting to run plays in Phase Two, I think we’re right around 80 percent — not including red zone,” he said. “But there are so many different ways this offense can go. We need to continue to add, continue to get better, continue to find ways to make plays and score points.”

Freeman badly wants to distance himself from the memory of last season when his production dropped from 25 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2010 to 16 touchdowns and 22 picks. He has attributed some of his difficulties to trying to force too many throws, hoping to make plays and pick up his spiraling team. That only made matters worse, however, resulting in numerous costly turnovers as the Bucs lost their final 10 games of the season.

Still, that same relentless determination to succeed is one of the traits that makes him special in the eyes of general manager Mark Dominik, among many others. “He really wants to be great,” Dominik said Tuesday. “If you listen to him, the calmness overshadows how hungry he (is) inside and what he wants to be. That’s what makes No. 5 such a different character and that’s made him so eager to learn. And this staff may work his tail off to make sure he’s got a chance to be what he wants to be. At 24 years old, he understands the clock is ticking for everybody.”

Dominik is looking forward to seeing what Freeman does with his new offensive weapons: “It’s a lot of fun — it’s fun for him and fun for us as an organization.”

Freeman’s weight loss wasn’t requested by the organization, the GM explained. “I wouldn’t say it was a need,” he said. “He carried 258, 260, 262 sometimes last year. He felt like he was a little heavy, but you didn’t feel like where it was (an issue).”

Many Bucs, in fact, shed some weight in accordance with what new strength and conditioning coach Jay Butler sees as optimum numbers. “(He’s) done a good job of setting goal weights for this football team and really kind of re-establishing what he wants guys to play at,” Dominik said. “That’s a big deal for Coach also. So they’re certainly working at those things. . . . I think as you look at the physiques of our football players, you’ll see their conditioning and physiques will look a little different.”

Freeman’s weight-loss plan came about during the off-season when he worked out with an old college buddy Grant Gregory, who followed Freeman as starting quarterback at Kansas State. “He’s a trainer at Harbor Island, and before we started Phase One (under  Schiano), I went in with him for about a month,” Freeman said. “He got me on a diet and working out. It was just really about wanting to work. It’s been a good deal — change it up, stop going to Taco Bell late at night. I eliminated the fourth meal.”

He stressed that his added bulk in recent seasons after graduating from Kansas State didn’t cause him any problems. “People will say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were 260 last year, but I’m like, ‘Well the year before, I played at about 263 — I played heavier in 2010 than I did in 2011,” Freeman said.

He fluctuates between 240 and 245 depending on water weight, but the change hasn’t increased his stamina or made him feel different on the field. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to be so much faster,’ but it’s about the same,” he said. “I feel good. Obviously, you’re going to eat right and eat healthy and you have a different kind of energy.”

But what counts more than pounds is how Freeman and the new additions can energize the offense come September.

NOTES:  Schiano was pleased with the practice at the first organized team activity. “The guys had great effort, energy, focus — it was good,” he said. “What we put on tape wasn’t so good. But that’s OK. We’ve got to get it cleaned up now.” . . .  He said about 85 percent of the plays have been installed, so now more situational football will be stressed. . . . . On the knee injury suffered by second-year defensive lineman Da’Quan Bowers, he remarked, “It certainly is a great loss for Da’Quan not to be with us here. Hopefully we’ll get him back at sometime during the season, but that’s the nature of team sports. When someone goes down, it’s another man’s opportunity. We’ll work at it. Michael Bennett, George Johnson and the rest of the guys are going to step up and certainly Adrian (Clayborn) on the other side.” . . . . As for the experiment with veteran corner Ronde Barber playing at safety, Schiano plans to continue it. “I like the way he’s performed so far. The final piece will be live play, but I don’t have any hesitation. . . . He’s a fearless guy. I think he can do it. It’s just a matter of what is our best 11 guys.” . . .  Doug Martin suffered a slight hamstring strain and spent practice working with a trainer as a precaution.