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Senior NFL Columnist

Bucs showing mysterious lack of faith in their QB, Josh Freeman

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Why don't the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like quarterback Josh Freeman?

They can say they do all they want, but their actions speak differently. They haven't given him a contract extension, even though Freeman is in the final year of his deal coming off a season where he set franchise marks for yards and touchdown passes, and they also drafted Mike Glennon in the third round of the NFL Draft last week.

They can sugarcoat it all they want, but it's evident the Bucs don't like Freeman as much as they might say.

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I don't get it.

For months, we've been hearing talk from those around the Bucs organization, and some inside, who say there is friction between coach Greg Schiano and Freeman. The word is Schiano doesn't think Freeman has enough fire in the belly, that he isn't his type of quarterback.

"What does that even mean?" one NFC personnel director said. "What does he want from the guy?"

Freeman is a gym rat. He loves the game. He is one of the first in the facility and one of the last to leave. That is something nobody in the organization can deny. The kid loves football.

But he does it in his own style, which might not be the way Schiano wants it.

Schiano is fire and bravado.

Freeman is more easygoing than that.

So there's friction. And it leaves Freeman hanging out there entering the final year of his contract.

This much we know: Schiano didn't draft Freeman. He inherited him. General manager Mark Dominik drafted Freeman. And when he did, there were questions about it. I know. I questioned it at the time.

A year later, I admitted I was wrong.

Freeman can play. But the fact that the head coach is internally questioning it -- even if he denies it publicly -- says there are issues.

One Buccaneers source said Schiano would like to see Freeman take charge of the huddle and the locker room more.

"He wants a guy who is going to get in guys faces when they make mistakes," the source said. "The fiery, take-charge guy."

Said the NFC personnel director: "They can't all be Peyton Manning."

Freeman hasn't led the Bucs to the playoffs since being the team's first-round pick four years ago. But there are reasons, some due to a lack of talent for much of his time there. Some of it has been his knack for trying to do too much.

But the Bucs are getting better, especially on offense. The pieces are all in place. At the league meetings in Arizona in March, Schiano once again publicly backed his quarterback.

"I've said I believe we can win and achieve all the goals we want with Josh Freeman as our quarterback," Schiano said.

"But to say you're married, well, nobody is married to anyone in this game. The reality is this is a performance-based game. You've got to win. They're not married to me. You've got to win or I'm not going to be the coach. Everybody in this game gets that."

Freeman threw for 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. There were only six others in the league to do that last season. Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Andrew Luck didn't do it. In two of the past three seasons, Freeman has thrown at least 25 touchdown passes. Flacco, who just signed a mega-contact extension after leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory, has never had a 4,000-yard, 25-touchdown season.

In studying Freeman's tapes from last season, there were times where he looked like the franchise passer the Bucs wonder if they have. He was deadly accurate, read the field with his eyes and made strong throws. At other times, he let his mechanics slip and his poor footwork led to inaccuracy, which contributed to his 54.8 completion percentage. That is bad.

There were things that impacted that low number. For one, the Bucs are a deep passing team, which will lower those numbers. And then after studying him closely on tape, there were other factors such as drops, poor routes, bad reads by the receivers and some stopping on their routes.

Take his four-interception game against the Saints in December in a 41-0 blowout. Of the four picks, one was because tight end Dallas Clark failed to get across the face of corner Jabari Greer, one was a misread on a route run by Vincent Jackson and a third came when Tiquan Underwood stopped on his go route.

Is that on Freeman?

There is too much to like for the Bucs to be playing this kid this way. He is big, strong, tough, spins his head, and just needs to stop trying to do too much when things go badly. If he can do that, and work on his footwork, the Bucs might be spending more than they expected when it comes time for an extension.

With Glennon being a rookie, there really is no quarterback controversy in terms of who will play in 2013. But there seems to be one in regards to the confidence the Bucs -- or at least Schiano -- are showing in their fourth-year quarterback.

What I can't figure out is why.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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