Josh Freeman (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY)
Josh Freeman is hoping to grab hold of his starting opportunity, with his debut coming only two weeks after signing with the Vikings. He continues to adjust to an offense that isn’t completely new to him, but the Vikings are limiting what he needs on a week-to-week basis.
Josh Freeman has some familiarity with the Vikings offense, but a two-week, in-season crash course will be a test for the team’s third starting quarterback in four games.
Freeman, acquired last week after being released from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has been in full study mode for the past week.
“He has put in a lot of hours here from the day he arrived,” head coach Leslie Frazier said after Wednesday’s practice. “He was here late last night spending time with Craig (Johnson, quarterbacks coach) and going through assignments and what we were going to do here today in practice. I’m sure he’s in (the building) right now watching tape and visiting with the coaches. He has hung around this building. It’s been good to see the way he has put the time in to prepare, and this is prior to knowing that this was going to happen this week. He has put in a lot of time trying to understand our offense and get acclimated, to his teammates as well.”
Last week was essentially a breaking-in phase for Freeman. While he was getting tutored on the side by Johnson and assistant quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski, the full-team, on-field work in practice was being done by Matt Cassel, the starter against the Carolina Panthers, and Christian Ponder, the starter for the first three games.
This week, it’s all about Freeman applying his classroom crash course to on-field performance. He admits the results are still to be determined but says there is “no question” he will be adequately prepared.
“I have a pretty good grasp of the offense. 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,” Freeman said. “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 today.
“… I dug up my old books, started 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.”
The coaching staff spends the offseason and training camp trying to install the offense, but they don’t have that kind of time moving Freeman into the starting lineup two weeks after he signed with the team.
By Monday night, he will have to be up to speed against the New York Giants on the national stage that the Monday Night Football production provides, but that doesn’t mean he needs to understand the entire offense.
“We’ll have enough from our playbook where he can function and have success and allow our offense to have success as well,” Frazier said. “You know we’re not going to have the entire playbook in, but we don’t do that anyway. We have game plans specifically for that team and that’s what we’ve done here as well. So we’ll have enough in where he won’t get bogged down and he can go out and play well.”
For the Vikings, this is an opportunity for them to evaluate another quarterback for the long-term possibilities at the position. For Freeman, it’s an opportunity to prove that the coaching staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was wrong to bench and then release him.
“Do I have a chip on my shoulder? I’m sure I do. But I think it’s more deeply rooted than just the past six months, 12 months,” said the 2009 first-round draft pick of the Bucs. “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 Rick (Spielman, general manager), from the entire team, this is a very special group of guys. It’s 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.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.