COMMENTARY | In a surprising decision by embattled coach Greg Schiano, the Mike Glennon era commenced for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Sunday’s 13-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, as the rookie was named starting quarterback for the disappointing 0-4 team.
Though Glennon experienced a rocky fourth quarter against the Cardinals, marked by an all-too-familiar pair of game-changing interceptions, there were positives during a debut contest in which the rookie completed 24 of 43 pass attempts and threw for 193 yards and a touchdown.
Depending on the level of pessimism in frustrated fans, however, the move is more accurately described as the end of the Josh Freeman era. The fifth-year player did not dress for the disheartening defeat and will likely never wear the Bucs’ colors again.
Dropping the season’s first three contests, each prior failure was an easy opportunity to blame the club’s woeful offense, which ranks only ahead of Jacksonville as 31st of 32 teams in points scored. While Tampa Bay’s defense has demonstrated notable progress, Freeman’s performance in 2013 could only be described as miserable, and it did not take long to cost his job.
The Downfall of Josh Freeman
With rumors of a rift between Freeman and Schiano, the timing of the switch may be unexpected, but the move is consistent with earlier signals. The drafting of Glennon alone displayed dissatisfaction, especially when few expected the Bucs to spend a high pick on a quarterback. Freeman is already playing without a contract for 2014 and requested a trade in response to the benching. Schiano may believe he lost the locker room and teammates already delivered a strong message by failing to name the signal-caller as team captain.
During Freeman’s prior four seasons with the Bucs, accuracy and turnovers prevented the Kansas State product from reaching lofty heights envisioned, when selected in the first-round of the 2009 draft. Regressing after a solid 2010 campaign, last year’s 54.8 completion percentage was third-worst in the NFL, so inaccuracy in 2013 cannot be discounted. In fact, Freeman’s 45.7 percentage is now dead last among the league’s quarterbacks.
Furthermore, with 39 total interceptions from 2011-2012, Freeman was tied with Ryan Fitzpatrick for the most picks during that span. Largely due to that tendency for turnovers, the former Buffalo Bills’ thrower is no longer a starting quarterback. With playoff prospects already crumbling at 0-3, Tampa Bay executed a similar decision. Football often takes strange turns and injuries produce unexpected results. However, most fans believe they have seen the last of Josh Freeman as a Buccaneer.
What Went Wrong In 2013?
Besides inaccuracy, the Bucs’ passing attack has been alarmingly predictable through three contests. Top receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are effective weapons and each has been rewarded with long-term contracts. Nevertheless, Freeman targeted the duo on a whooping 53 of 94 pass attempts in 2013. Indeed, during the loss to the New York Jets, 206 of his 210 passing yards went to just two players. Despite limited offensive talent, Freeman made little effort to spread the ball to running backs, tight ends, and even other wide-outs.
With a healthy offensive line actually stepping up, Freeman has generally been aided by both a strong running attack and improved protection. Typically wasting several seconds of solid blocking, the Bucs’ quarterback has generally failed to anticipate the rush. Not only turnover-prone in such situations, but his ability to escape a crumbling pocket is surprisingly limited.
Despite a sizable 6’6″ frame, and occasionally demonstrating skill to run, Freeman frustratingly refuses to nurture these tools. While many NFL clubs are helped by mobility from a modern-style quarterback, Tampa Bay’s signal-caller has attempted only 5 scrambles for 20 total yards in 3 games. That’s decent production in a quarter for the game’s younger passers, such as Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick.
If Freeman were more accurate, or protected the ball with greater success, fans could accept his lack of mobility. Yet, as the 25 year-old reaches his fifth season, evidence is rapidly mounting that the benched quarterback actually struggles with each of these critical tasks.
Who Is Mike Glennon?
Following an underwhelming preseason, few believed the first-year quarterback was prepared for such an opportunity. That said, throwing rookies into the fire is increasingly common, and both Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel started from day one in 2013. Working in Glennon’s favor, the 23 year-old received substantial playing time during the summer, as Schiano misguidedly rested Freeman to prevent injury.
During preseason play, Glennon served as the Bucs’ primary quarterback in 3 of 4 contests, where he completed 33 of 70 passes for a combined 397 yards. The rookie further tossed 3 touchdowns and was intercepted 4 times. Despite showcasing a capable arm, the signal-caller struggled reading defensive adjustments, and his accuracy left much to be desired. That sure sounds familiar.
A third round selection by Tampa Bay, Glennon was scooped up with the 73rd overall pick and in April’s draft. With an impressive 7,000 passing yards and 62 touchdowns, Glennon excelled as North Carolina State’s starting quarterback during two full collegiate seasons. In a very familiar description, the 6’7″ Virginia native is a strong-armed, big bodied quarterback, who prefers functioning as a traditional pocket passer.
Glennon may possess the tools for success, but those same words were written about Josh Freeman in 2009. In fact, many still believed that description to be accurate until this very month. The rookie must master a pro style offense, which emphasizes a running attack and stretching the field. While that challenge is daunting, no task is more important than the straight-froward mission to avoid untimely mistakes.
Whereas Freeman made little effort to spread the ball, Glennon must nurture his weapons, even if they are limited. The Bucs do have one of the league’s most exciting rushers in Doug Martin and also benefit from a quickly improving defense. These assets must be given opportunities to win games.
Outlook for the Rookie Quarterback
While some question if the rookie is ready to succeed, I’d argue an 0-3 record indicated such a description already applied to Josh Freeman. Less than a month into the season, Schiano’s move may have been a desperate one, but still may prove the wisest play for a desperate situation.
Before taking the field against Arizona, Mike Glennon was an unknown quantity. Though the team came up short once again, progress was witnessed in the rookie’s performance. Unlike his preseason experience, Glennon appeared far more comfortable leading Tampa Bay’s offense against Arizona. The big guy distributed the ball to 9 different receivers, nurtured a surprising short-passing game, and even established chemistry with new tight end Tim Wright.
History suggests Glennon will struggle with some of the same deficiencies that have haunted the Bucs for years and those late turnovers certainly proved costly. Yet, it is better such mistakes occur as part of a rookie’s growing pains than a fifth-year player’s continual struggles.
Glennon’s confidence should be boosted in knowing his predecessor set the bar low for quarterback play in Tampa Bay. Despite an 0-4 record, timing is on the Bucs’ side, as the club possesses a bye week to work on an array of problems.
Glennon next takes the field for a contest with the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, October 13, at Raymond James Stadium.
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
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Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.