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Extended lockout could impact young Bucs

Posted Jan 17, 2011 by Ira Kaufman

Updated Jan 17, 2011 at 01:31 PM

By IRA KAUFMAN

TAMPA—Every team in the NFL is preparing for life without football.

But that doesn’t mean a potential lockout would affect every club to the same degree. An extended work stoppage could have a major impact on the fortunes of the Buccaneers, the league’s youngest team.

Josh Freeman’s startling improvement in 2010 can be traced in large part to the work he put in during the offseason. Tampa Bay’s 22-year-old quarterback diligently studied film with offensive coordinator Greg Olson and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt leading up to training camp and put in hours of extra work throwing to rookie receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn.

All that effort paid off handsomely as Freeman turned in a superb season in his first full year as a starter, throwing 25 touchdown passes and only six interceptions as the Bucs (10-6) set a franchise record by improving by seven wins.

But if there is no labor agreement by the time the current CBA expires March 3, NFL players will be prohibited from working at team facilities. That means no film work with coaches and no organized workouts with teammates.

For long-time passing combinations like Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis and Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward in Pittsburgh, offseason work isn’t nearly as vital. Honing the timing between Freeman and his young targets in Tampa was a critical component of Tampa Bay’s success last year.

According to Van Pelt and Olson, Freeman’s dedication to studying film was instrumental in preparing him for the complex defenses meant to confuse young quarterbacks.

The results were obvious as Freeman appeared poised in crunch time. He went through his progressions with the confidence that comes knowing he was well prepared for blitz packages and elaborate coverages.

The only way to keep Freeman out of the building is with a work stoppage. And if a lockout lingers toward the start of training camp, Freeman and his young Bucs will have suffered a major setback before the 2011 season even kicks off.

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