NFL Nation: Doug Williams

I caught part of a replay of Super Bowl XXII the other day on NFL Network, and it was the start of the third quarter between the Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos when announcer Al Michaels said something that caught my attention.

It actually made me pause the DVR, hit rewind and play again so I could hear Michaels one more time. And then another.

Sure, there had been rumors that Al Davis had been enamored with quarterback Doug Williams. But in the third quarter of that Super Bowl, after Williams had essentially won the game for Washington with an epic second quarter that featured five touchdowns, Michaels told the tale.

[+] EnlargeDoug Williams
AP Photo/Amy SancettaThe Raiders and Redskins reportedly discussed a swap for quarterback Doug Williams before the 1987 season.
He reported that Williams had been ticketed to the then-Los Angeles Raiders the Monday before the NFL’s 1987 regular season was to begin. Then-Washington coach Joe Gibbs had even told Williams he was on his way to the Raiders.

But then, according to Michaels, the Raiders balked at Washington’s price -- a first-round draft pick, or a very good player.

Now, we’ve already heard the tales of John Elway coming so close to being a Raider, and how the Raiders should have drafted Dan Marino in that same 1983 draft after the purported draft-day trade to land Elway fell through. And while the Williams-to-the-Raiders story might not have that same intrigue as either Elway or Marino wearing Silver and Black, it is interesting nonetheless.

Especially when you consider what Williams accomplished later that strike-torn season, and when you realize who the Raiders instead used that first-round pick on in the 1983 draft.

Williams, who had been the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ starting quarterback from 1978 through 1982 and had helped author three playoff appearances for them, was also a pioneer as an African American quarterback, following in the footsteps of James Harris and Joe Gilliam.

And we know that Davis looked beyond skin tone when it came to players he believed could play --Davis selected QB Eldridge Dickey in the first round of the 1968 draft -- and Williams had the big arm Davis was always in search of.

But after a contract dispute ended his time in Tampa Bay, Williams played two seasons in the USFL before resurfacing in Washington in 1986 as Jay Schroeder's backup.

Williams had not started an NFL game since Jan. 9, 1983, a playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys, so yeah, you could imagine the Raiders not wanting to give up a first-rounder for him less than a week before the 1987 season.

Still, the Raiders were relatively unsettled under center entering that season as Jim Plunkett had retired and Marc Wilson and Rusty Hilger were the returners.

But even as the Raiders got off to a 3-0 start, the wheels quickly fell off, thanks in part to the strike, which cancelled one week of games and led to three weeks of replacement player games. The Raiders finished 5-10, their worst record since going 1-13 in 1962, the year before Davis arrived in Oakland. And two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Tom Flores resigned following the season.

Would Williams have saved the season and steadied the Raiders' ship?

Meanwhile, in Washington, Williams still had to bide his time. Sure, he relieved Schroeder a few times in 1987 and even started two regular-season games, but he did not become Washington’s starter for good until there was 6:51 remaining in the third quarter of its regular-season finale against Minnesota.

Williams, a huge team favorite, led Washington on its playoff run, upsetting the Chicago Bears in the divisional round and then upending the Vikings in the NFC title game.

Then came Super Sunday, in which he threw all four of his touchdown passes in the historic second quarter and passed for a then-Super Bowl record 340 yards in Washington’s 42-10 victory over Elway’s Broncos as Williams became the first African-American starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl, a feat not matched until Russell Wilson did it with the Seattle Seahawks this past February.

The trade that never happened between Oakland and Washington seemed to work out best for Washington, at least on the surface.

But if the Raiders had given up their first-rounder in 1988, they probably would have missed out on Tim Brown, though the Raiders did do some wheeling and dealing later to acquire three first-rounders, which they used on Brown, Terry McDaniel and Scott Davis.

So, with hindsight always being 20/20, do you essentially trade Doug Williams for Tim Brown if you’re the Raiders?

Whatever your answer, remember this: the Raiders and Washington would get together for a trade in 1988, a deal that would haunt the Raiders as they sent offensive tackle Jim Lachey to Washington for… wait for it … Schroeder.

Williams would only play 15 more games over the next two seasons before retiring, while Schroeder could not fully win over the hearts and minds of the Raiders' locker room in five seasons.
The other day, I wrote about future candidates for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Ring of Honor.

We talked about Doug Williams, Ricky Bell, Mike Alstott, John Lynch, Monte Kiffin, Tony Dungy, James Wilder and Ronde Barber. I think all of them should get into the Ring of Honor at some point.

But they may have to take a spot in line. With the death Wednesday of owner Malcolm Glazer, there's another obvious candidate.

Glazer deserves a spot in the Ring of Honor as soon as possible. Although he wasn't always popular with fans, Glazer did more for this franchise than anyone.

When he paid a then-record $192 million for the Bucs in 1995, Glazer was taking over a franchise that was a laughingstock. The Bucs had been bad for most of their existence and there was even talk about the team moving out of Tampa Bay.

Glazer fought a hard battle to get taxpayers to fund a new, state-of-the-art stadium that kept the Bucs in town. He also started changing just about everything.

He put the Bucs in new red and pewter uniforms. He also hired Dungy, who turned the franchise into a consistent winner. When Dungy couldn't quite get the Bucs over the hump, Glazer made a tough decision. He fired Dungy and traded for Jon Gruden.

In Gruden's first season, the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Speaking of Super Bowls, Glazer was instrumental in bringing two of them to Tampa Bay.

There are a lot of candidates with qualifications that make them worthy of the Ring of Honor. But none of them have better qualifications than Glazer.
Morocco Brown got a promotion -- just not from the Redskins. A source confirmed Tuesday that Brown will become the next vice president of player personnel for the Cleveland Browns.

The possibility of his likely hiring was first reported by Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot, but the position was unclear. The source confirmed that it was for the VP job.

Thus creates a big opening that Redskins general manager Bruce Allen now must fill. They could always promote Doug Williams, hired earlier this offseason as a personnel executive. Williams was a personnel executive for five seasons in Tampa Bay under Allen and then spent two years as the coordinator of pro scouting. They also have former San Diego general manager A.J. Smith on staff, though he's not full-time at Redskins Park and his focus this past offseason was on the draft.

Brown had been in charge of advance scouting of opponents and scouting potential free-agent and trade prospects. He joined Washington in 2008 from Chicago.

Brown interviewed for general manager positions in Arizona and Tampa Bay since the end of the 2012 season. He has a good reputation as hard-working and knowledgeable.

Brown will be reunited with Cleveland offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and receivers coach Mike McDaniel.

Jay Gruden a good fit with RG III

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Robert Griffin IIIPatrick Smith/Getty ImagesQuarterback Robert Griffin III is smiling again under new Washington coach Jay Gruden.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- They notice a difference. Robert Griffin III is happier, something just about everyone who has seen him at Redskins Park has picked up on. It could be because he’s not spending his time in Florida rehabbing his knee, as he was doing a year ago. Or that he knows the knee brace likely is a thing of the past.

Or it’s the fresh start that he -- and everyone else, for that matter -- is getting. When the Redskins changed coaches, they also changed the outlook for Griffin. Regardless of who was to blame for the failed relationship between him and former coach Mike Shanahan, the bottom line is it didn’t work. Enter Jay Gruden. Enter an excited young quarterback.

One Redskins employee described Griffin as “18 times happier.” Others echo that sentiment. Whether a happy Griffin translates into a productive one will be answered in about six months. But there is little doubt the offseason has unfolded in a positive way for Griffin.

“Jay sees football through the eyes of the quarterback,” Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of his former offensive coordinator. “It gives him the opportunity for the quarterback to grow through him. That’s really helpful. The offense and everything has to be quarterback-friendly, and that’s important.”

It’s not just Gruden’s arrival. It’s Sean McVay being elevated to offensive coordinator. Like Gruden, McVay offers a more measured demeanor. It’s also the hiring of Doug Williams as a personnel executive. Williams will not coach Griffin, but will act as a sounding board, as someone who played the position at a high level in the NFL and understands scrutiny. The two already have spoken.

“This kid came in here as a rookie and single-handedly raised the play of everybody on that football team,” Williams said recently on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “At the end of the day, you can’t put it all on his shoulders. You’ve got to have some people around him. And I think that’s the course we’re in now. This guy, man, he comes to the office, always smiling, always upbeat, and you can tell his leadership character and the things that he’s got going for him that are gonna take him a long way.”

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsJay Gruden on developing the offense around Robert Griffin III: "I think it's gotta be a two-way street. It's gotta be something we're both interactive with."
Even Gruden sees how eager Griffin is to get going. But it’s about more than just having a new coach; Griffin also wants to make up for a subpar season and to regain his rookie mojo. But Gruden wants to make sure Griffin, who is often at Redskins Park (though they can’t yet discuss football together), doesn’t burn out.

“He just needs to relax right now. Enjoy the offseason,” Gruden said. “When it’s time, it’s time. We’ll get plenty of time with him to work with his fundamentals, and just don’t stress out over it right now. He’s so anxious and wants to do so well all the time. He’s such a perfectionist that he needs to settle down right now, enjoy the offseason, enjoy the players he’s working out with right now, and have some fun.”

Griffin had to mature; it’s also important to note that he’s still only 24. And, yes, maybe he needs to be treated differently than, say, backup Kirk Cousins. Is that right or wrong? Well, coaching is about knowing how to reach every player, especially one who plays the most important position and who can define the franchise for the next decade.

Shanahan had his way of doing things, and it earned him two Super Bowl titles. As a rookie, Griffin flourished under him: 20 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 815 yards rushing and 3,200 yards throwing. But, fair or not, Griffin never trusted him, never fully bought what he was being sold. Doesn’t matter who’s at fault, but the reality is that it makes it tougher to grow, both as a player and as a team.

Gruden has never quite relinquished a quarterback’s mindset. Heck, he says he’s still bitter about never getting a shot in the NFL. But maintaining that mindset helps him relate well to those who play the position. In Cincinnati, Gruden and Andy Dalton shared a strong bond. If that develops here, perhaps he’ll coax even more out of Griffin.

“There’s the physical tools to the game and then there’s the mental aspects, where you have to have confidence in everything you do,” Gruden said. “The quarterback needs to know that the coach has the quarterback’s best interests [at] heart. He has to understand that I want nothing more than for him to succeed. Obviously, he’s got my future in his hands. And it kind of works both ways. It would be foolish for me to think I have all the power: ‘You do exactly what I want. I don’t care if you like it or not.’ I think it’s gotta be a two-way street. It’s gotta be something we’re both interactive with.”

If there’s a disagreement, Gruden stressed that he has the final call. It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking otherwise. Gruden must be in control, and that concept must be accepted by Griffin. But if they develop a strong relationship, they can weather any storms. Last season, a storm turned into a tornado.

Griffin, now working out with teammates in Arizona, must smile at Gruden's words. It’s a new day for him: a full offseason and a coach known for building strong ties. All that’s left is to produce next season. If that happens, Griffin will give the entire organization reason to smile. Again.

Would the Redskins draft Sam?

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Michael Sam is a potential 3-4 outside linebacker who happens to be gay, and potentially the first openly gay player in the NFL.

But come draft time the Redskins need to ask themselves one question: Can he help them?

He’s a potential 3-4 outside linebacker who would need time to develop based on the descriptions of his play. Sam posted big numbers at Missouri this past season as a defensive end: 11.5 sacks; SEC Defensive Player of the Year; first-team All-American. Clearly he has talent.

What the Redskins need are good, young pass rushers. Do they have enough? He would be a project, like any player who must make the transition from college left end to 3-4 outside linebacker. That means being able to play in space and drop into coverage. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds. By comparison, Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo, the Redskins’ starting outside linebackers both are 6-foot-4 (as is top reserve Rob Jackson) and weigh around 260 pounds as well.

Sam most likely is a mid-round draft choice at best, based on scouting reviews before his recent news.

Sam’s play at the Senior Bowl received mixed reviews. But Falcons linebackers coach Bryan Cox said to reporters during the week about Sam that he had “Good athleticism. You know what he was in college in terms of big plays that he made for Missouri. And you look at the [Cotton] bowl game when he had the big strip at the end of the game to win it for the team. So you know that he has some pass-rush ability

“You're looking for his versatility; kind of showcase his ability to play linebacker as well as playing the defensive front. He's just trying to showcase who he is. He's a very talented guy."

Would the organization want to draft an openly gay player? Consider the history: A former Redskin, Dave Kopay, was the first ex-NFL player to reveal his sexual orientation.

General manager Bruce Allen’s father, George, coached former Redskin Jerry Smith. George Allen later sent a letter to Smith after he learned he had contracted AIDS.

In A Football Life: Jerry Smith, Bruce Allen read parts of the letter, “You not only were the very best tight end the Redskins ever had, you also were the toughest. Like we always said, no matter how many setbacks you have had keep fighting. I want you ready for my next team. That one will be called the Over the Hill Gang.”

And the Redskins alumni invited Smith’s sister and her son to a recent homecoming game.

Allen also said on the show, “He’s in our ring of honor and has been there for a number of years. His contributions to the Washington Redskins on the field and off the field will never be forgotten.”

Not that this has anything to do with the team now.

Doug Williams was just hired Monday as a Redskins personnel executive. So it’s not as if he speaks for the entire organization. But I’d be surprised if others differed with what he said.

“We have to take our hats off to the young guy,” Williams said. “He did something that takes a lot of courage. I’m sure he thinks it could hurt his draft status. It could help. But the locker room is what it is. For five years this guy has been in a locker room and [his teammates] put their arms around him and had a heck of a season, which means it wasn’t a big deal to them. At the NFL level the bottom line is where does he rate as a player. Russell Wilson won the Super Bowl and nobody talked about him being black. Eventually we have to get to that point when we talk about people’s sexuality.

“We all understand there will be some knuckleheads out there. That won’t ever change. But you have to understand society has changed enough over the last 10 to 15 years and you have to accept people for what they are.”

Can Freeman follow past Bucs' QBs?

September, 26, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. – Maybe losing his job as the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the best thing that could happen to Josh Freeman.

Freeman
With Wednesday’s news that rookie Mike Glennon will take over as the starter, it’s fair to say Freeman’s tenure in Tampa Bay is just about over. He’ll either be traded this season or be allowed to walk away as a free agent afterward.

While those might not sound like great options, the history of the Buccaneers suggests otherwise.

Doug Williams, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer all went on to win Super Bowls after departing the Bucs. Vinny Testaverde went on to have a long and productive career. Can Freeman be as successful as those former Tampa Bay quarterbacks?

I think the talent is there. But Freeman is going to have to land in the right place. After what he has been through with Greg Schiano, Freeman needs a different style of coach. Freeman’s laid-back ways and Schiano’s militaristic style didn’t work well together.

There are plenty of people around the league who believe Freeman has what it takes to be a successful quarterback. Someone will give him a shot at a starting job.

Maybe Schiano ruined Freeman forever. Or maybe Freeman can do what Williams, Young and Dilfer did once they got a change of scenery.
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Our countdown of the top 20 NFL coaches of all time reaches No. 9 today, and that's where we find Washington Redskins coaching legend Joe Gibbs, winner of three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. One of those quarterbacks was Doug Williams, who told Ashley Fox the story of how Gibbs was going to trade him to the Raiders prior to the 1987 season but told him he'd changed his mind:
I said, "Coach, you can't change your mind." That's the first time I'd ever seen Joe get mad. He told me, "I don't work for the Raiders. I work for the Washington Redskins. I can change my mind." And then he calmed down a little bit, and he looked at me and said, "I've got a gut feeling somewhere during the season you're going to come in here, and we're going to win this thing."

Joe Gibbs told me that before the season. In the last game of the regular season, I wasn't the starting quarterback. After the last game of the season, Joe Gibbs makes the decision, "I'm going to start Doug Williams." That's a heck of a decision. If there had been a vote in the locker room, I would've won the election from the start.

As a coach, you have to know the heartbeat of your football team, and he felt that was what everybody else was thinking. If you watch the highlight film after the Super Bowl, at the end of the film, Joe and I hug. And he tells me in my ear, "I told you so." Well, you know, all along I felt pretty good before he told me that, because of what we'd done. But for him to tell me that, it just resonated what kind of coach he was, what kind of man he was and the spiritual belief he had. For him to tell me that before the season in 1987 and then it happened, in a way it's scary, but at the same time I think it had a lot to do with his coaching ability.

The whole win-Super-Bowls-with-three-different-quarterbacks thing looks even more impressive from our present-day vantage point, with the franchise quarterback established as the essential ingredient without which championships can't be won. But it's still something no one has ever done, and it bolsters Gibbs' credentials as the type of coach who could have been great in any era -- one who clearly understood that great coaching means figuring out how to get the very best out of the people you have, not assembling a team out of the kinds of guys you want. He's an all-time Redskins legend, one of the most beloved figures in franchise history and certainly a worthy member of any list of the top 10 coaches in NFL history.
video Jim from Albany, Ore., had no beefs with the "Greatest Coaches" ballot I submitted for the ESPN project. He did question the project itself, however.

"It seems to me that a coach becomes 'great' only after he has a 'great' quarterback," Jim wrote in the NFC West mailbag. "The coaches at the very top of the list might be exceptions, but let's look at some of the others."

The way Jim sees things, Bill Belichick struggled in Cleveland before he had Tom Brady in New England. Mike Shanahan struggled without John Elway. Mike Holmgren was considered a great coach in Green Bay, but he had Brett Favre. Tom Landry struggled after Roger Staubach retired. Tom Coughlin was fired by Jacksonville, but once he had Eli Manning, he became a great coach. Tony Dungy became great when he had Peyton Manning. Bill Walsh was innovative, of course, but he also had Joe Montana and Steve Young.

"The voting is a fun exercise and I don't mean to dismiss the importance of a coach," Jim writes. "Some are certainly much better than others and some are great, but I think people are overlooking the role that a franchise quarterback plays in how 'great' a coach is considered to be."

There is no doubt quarterbacks make a tremendous difference. Head coaches sometimes play leading roles in acquiring and developing quarterbacks. Let's take a quick run through the coaches Jim mentioned in search of added perspective:
  • Belichick: We could say the Patriots lucked into Brady in the sixth round, but Belichick was ultimately responsible for drafting him and then sticking with him after Drew Bledsoe's return to health. Also, the Patriots had an 11-5 record when Matt Cassel was their primary quarterback in 2008.
  • Shanahan: Shanahan deserves credit for getting the most from an aging Elway. The Broncos had six winning seasons, one losing season and one 8-8 season in the eight years immediately following Elway's retirement. The post-Elway Broncos went 91-69 under Shanahan overall. That works out to a .569 winning percentage in Denver after Elway. Bill Parcells was at .570 for his entire career.
  • Holmgren: Even if we give Favre credit for the Packers' success in Green Bay, we still must account for Holmgren's winning with Matt Hasselbeck and a more run-oriented offense in Seattle. Hasselbeck was a sixth-round pick in Green Bay. Holmgren traded for him and eventually won with him. Hasselbeck went to three Pro Bowls. Holmgren didn't luck into Hasselbeck. He helped develop him.
  • Landry: The Cowboys enjoyed their greatest postseason success under Landry when Staubach was the quarterback through the 1970s. However, the Cowboys were 31-10 under Landry in the three seasons before Staubach arrived. They were 21-6-1 in Staubach's first two seasons even though Staubach started only three of those games, posting a 2-1 record in his starts. Dallas went 24-8 in its first two seasons after Staubach retired. The Cowboys posted five winning records in their first six seasons of the post-Staubach era, going 61-28 over that span.
  • Coughlin: Manning wasn't all that great for much of Coughlin's early run with the Giants. Players such as Michael Strahan have credited Coughlin for adapting his gruff personal style in a manner that allowed the Giants to become a championship team. That could be entirely true, or it could be convenient narrative. We can't really know. However, although the Giants might not have won titles without Manning, we can't ignore the role their defense played in defeating Brady's Patriots following the 2007 season in particular. They didn't win disproportionately because of their quarterback.
  • Dungy: I listed Dungy 20th on my ballot because he won with two completely different types of teams. However, I also think a case can be made that the Colts should have enjoyed greater playoff success during the Peyton Manning years. Ultimately, I point to the success Tampa Bay enjoyed beginning in 1997 with a team built to some degree in Dungy's defensive image. The Buccaneers went 48-32 in their final five seasons under Dungy. That franchise was floundering previously.

I left off Walsh because Jim wasn't challenging his credentials as a great coach. Hopefully, the information above provides some context. I do think it's tough knowing to what degree a coach has facilitated his team's success. We're left to look at success over time, plus whatever contributions a coach seemed to make in terms of strategy, team building, etc.

Joe Gibbs gets credit for winning three Super Bowls with three quarterbacks, none of them Hall of Famers. It's not as if Gibbs had horrible quarterbacks, however. Joe Theismann and Mark Rypien were both two-time Pro Bowl selections. Doug Williams obviously had talent. He was a first-round draft choice, after all.

Perhaps we'll find ways in the future to better measure a coach's contributions. Right now, there's a lot we do not know beyond the results on the field.
Josh FreemanBruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireThe Bucs have superior talent in numerous key areas. But can they count on QB Josh Freeman?
TAMPA, Fla. -- When it comes right down to it, not all that much has changed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason.

Sure, they made the blockbuster trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis, signed free-agent safety Dashon Goldson to a big contract and drafted a promising cornerback in Johnthan Banks. That’s all nice and it should go a long way toward fixing a pass defense that was the worst in the league last year. It’s a piece of the puzzle, but an improved pass defense alone isn’t going to put the Bucs in the playoffs.

Above everything else, one thing has to happen for the Bucs to become winners and maybe even compete for a Super Bowl.

Now, more than ever, it’s up to quarterback Josh Freeman.

You can look at Tampa Bay’s roster and see the secondary, a promising young defensive line, two good linebackers in Lavonte David and Mason Foster, an offensive line that’s loaded, a big-time receiver in Vincent Jackson and stud running back Doug Martin and say the Bucs easily could be a playoff team. The talent is there in just about every area.

But all that talent isn’t going to mean a thing if Freeman doesn’t take the next step and become perhaps the first true franchise quarterback in Tampa Bay history (I’m not sure Doug Williams counts because his tenure was brief).

If Freeman starts off 2013 the way he finished 2012, the Bucs are going to remain mired in mediocrity. If Freeman produces more back-to-back four-interception games, the unemployment rate is going to spike in the Tampa Bay area. The jobs of Freeman and general manager Mark Dominik and maybe even coach Greg Schiano depend almost entirely on how the quarterback plays in the upcoming season.

It’s no big secret that Freeman is heading into a season that’s going to determine his future and the future of the Bucs.

Freeman is headed into the final year of his contract and, unlike Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, an extension isn’t coming this offseason. Come up with a big 2013 season and Freeman will get paid huge money to stay in Tampa Bay. Have another stretch like he did last season when the Bucs went from a 6-4 start to a 7-9 finish, and Freeman will be looking for a new home.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonCoach Greg Schiano knows his job security depends heavily on Josh Freeman's production.
Contrary to popular belief, the latter scenario isn’t what the Bucs want. There have been rumblings that Freeman isn’t Schiano’s kind of guy.

"The entire offseason, I've been in constant communication with Coach,'' Freeman said at the start of the team’s offseason program. "I had a lot of time and sat down and talked with him about a number of things football-related, life-related. Me and coach, we've got a great relationship. Every now and then, somebody will call you and say, 'Hey man, what's up with you and your coach?' But we know how it is. It's something I'm not really concerned about. I'm kind of living it and I know how it is.''

The questions about Freeman and Schiano grew even louder last week when the Bucs drafted quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round.

Schiano didn’t give Freeman a ringing endorsement immediately after last season. Several times since then, the coach has tried to clarify his comments by saying he thought too much was made of his original statement. But, even then, Schiano has come up short of unequivocally saying that Freeman is the long-term answer at quarterback.

I think that’s more semantics than anything else, but how could Schiano be totally sold on Freeman at this point? Schiano’s first season was filled with peaks and valleys by Freeman. There also have been rumblings that Freeman isn’t as intense or as much of a rah-rah leader as Schiano would like.

But the irony is that outside of Freeman, his agent and Dominik, there’s not a person on the planet that would like to see the quarterback succeed more than Schiano. You don’t keep a coaching job for long in the modern NFL unless you’re winning and Tampa Bay hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2007 season.

When Freeman is on his game, he’s the prototype quarterback for a Schiano offense -- -control the ball with the running game and take some shots downfield with the passing game. Freeman has a big arm and we saw glimpses of it last year. We also saw glimpses of intensity and intangibles back in 2010 when Freeman led the Bucs to a 10-6 record and threw 25 touchdown passes with six interceptions.

The thing that people tend to forget is that Freeman just turned 25 in January. He’s not a finished product by any means. But the clock is ticking on his Tampa Bay tenure.

I’ll go on record and say I think Freeman can be very successful. I just think he needs to relax a bit and not try to win games on his own. It might not be easy to relax when you play for a coach like Schiano, but Freeman looks to me like a guy that just needs to go out and have fun and good things will follow.

If he can do that, the mistakes will disappear, the contract situation will take care of itself and the Bucs will be in the playoffs.

The rest of the team is stocked with talent and potential. The rest is up to Freeman. If Freeman can play up to his potential, everything will be fine.

Only then will Schiano firmly embrace his quarterback.
On Super Bowl Sunday, one of the features to air on ESPN's "NFL Countdown" show will be a look back at the Super Bowl victory by Doug Williams and the Washington Redskins 25 years ago. Our Greg Garber covered that game and recently wrote this story in which Williams recalls the victory and the fuss that was made over his being the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl. But the seven-minute feature that will run Sunday morning is narrated not by Garber but by current Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III:
“Originally, we thought it would be cool to get a voice like Denzel Washington, Sam Jackson or James Earl Jones, but we eventually realized that RG III was the perfect guy,” Garber said.

You can read more about the production of the feature and see a clip of it here. And of course the full feature will run on ESPN on Sunday. We've talked a lot here about Griffin's awareness of his place in history and society and the respect he has for those who came before him, and the fact that they were able to get him to narrate this story shows how seriously he takes it. Griffin was not yet born when Williams won that Super Bowl with the Redskins, but he has a great deal of respect for what happened that day and the way it helped change some perceptions about the quarterback position.

Freeman, Bucs breaking new ground

November, 15, 2012
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Josh FreemanCary Edmondson/US PresswireTampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman is directing the league's third-highest scoring offense.


This really has been true for only five weeks, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the most exciting offense in franchise history and they have a true franchise quarterback for the first time.

Start thinking about the history of this franchise because that’s a part of why I feel comfortable making those statements. We’ll run through that inglorious history in just a moment, but let’s start with the past five games.

In that stretch, Josh Freeman, who entered the season as a huge question mark, has established himself as a big-time quarterback. Rookie running back Doug Martin has become such a phenomenon that he finally might have shed that nickname he doesn’t like. And wide receiver Vincent Jackson has turned out to be worth every penny of that five-year, $55 million contract he signed back in March.

In each of the past five games, the Bucs have scored at least 28 points. When’s the last time that happened?

Never.

What’s happened in the past five games has vaulted the Bucs into the league lead in average yards per play (6.21). They’re averaging 28.9 points per game, which ranks them behind only New England (see Brady, Tom) and Denver (see Manning, Peyton). Speaking of Peyton Manning, he’s second in the league with an average of 8.20 yards per pass attempt. Freeman is No. 1 at 8.27.

Martin had a 251-yard, four-touchdown game at Oakland and has turned out to be the “all-purpose back’’ that coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik talked about on the night they drafted him.

Jackson’s leading the league by averaging 21.4 yards per reception. Heck, teammate Mike Williams is second at 18.3.

Heck, if this keeps up, we might be calling Freeman, Martin and Jackson “The Triplets’’, the way Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin used to be referred to in their Dallas glory days. At times, some people got carried away and called the Cowboys’ stars “The Quadruplets’’ because they actually thought Alvin Harper was good.

That’s a perfect way to jump back into the history of offensive football and the Buccaneers. Harper was the receiver the Bucs signed in the mid-1990s to be their Irvin. Instead, the thing most Tampa Bay fans remember about him is that he got part of his finger sliced off in a training-room accident.

For their entire existence, including the good years, the Bucs have been anywhere from dismal to mediocre on offense. They won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson as their quarterback and Monte Kiffin commanding a defense for the ages. They won a lot of games and tasted their first sustained success under coach Tony Dungy ... with Kiffin commanding a defense for the ages.

At one point in the 1990s, Tampa Bay’s bread-and-butter offensive play was having Errict Rhett run into Mike Alstott’s back and fall as far forward as possible. They later upgraded and had Warrick Dunn run into Alstott’s back and actually make a cut or two.

Even back during the first rise to prominence (1979), Tampa Bay was much more defined by Lee Roy Selmon and the defense than it was by the offense and Doug Williams.

Speaking of Williams, he was the best quarterback in franchise history -- until Freeman’s emergence. Between them, the Bucs have trotted out the likes of Steve Young (before he became Steve Young in San Francisco), Vinny Testaverde, Craig Erickson, Trent Dilfer, Shaun King, Brian Griese and Jeff Garcia.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin, Mike Williams, Vincent Smith
Matt Stamey/US PresswireA supporting cast that features receivers Mike Williams (19) and Vincent Jackson (83) and running back Doug Martin makes the Bucs' offense so fearsome.
Although Young, Testaverde and Dilfer had talent, they never had a chance in Tampa Bay because they didn’t have a supporting cast. Williams was easily the best quarterback in Tampa Bay history, but I’m not sure you can call him a franchise quarterback because his tenure lasted from 1978 until he left for the United States Football League in a contract squabble following the 1982 season.

Freeman’s not going to follow a similar route. He’s under contract through 2013, but, after what he’s shown this season, I think it’s safe to say Freeman’s going to be around a lot longer than that. Sometime in the offseason, the Bucs almost certainly will give Freeman a big contract extension.

Freeman has bounced back from the disastrous final season of the Raheem Morris era. He’s turned out to be everything Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said he would be upon their arrival. Schiano and Sullivan said they wanted to build an offense that ran the ball consistently and they wanted to take some shots downfield in the passing game.

That formula’s working. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Freeman leads the league with 19 completions on throws of 20 yards or more. Jackson leads the NFL with 10 receptions on throws of 20 yards or more.

Williams has revived a career that seemed to stall last year. The Bucs plucked receiver Tiquan Underwood off the scrap heap and he’s turning in big plays. Martin is making things happen in the running game and as a receiver and the offense is clicking, despite the fact the Bucs are without injured Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph.

For the longest time, there was a joke in Tampa Bay that the most exciting offense the region ever saw was the “Fun and Gun’’ orchestrated by Steve Spurrier and the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits, who, briefly, were more popular than the Bucs in the 1980s.

Those Bandits were wildly entertaining, but part of the reason they’re so fondly remembered is because the Bucs always were boring -- and usually bad -- on offense.

Until now.

Wrap-up: Buccaneers 34, Chargers 24

November, 11, 2012
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Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-24 victory against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The Bucs are 5-4. For a young team with a rookie NFL head coach in Greg Schiano, it is hugely significant to be over .500 in the second half of the season. A week or two ago, it was easy to look at the Bucs and say they were a team that could be on targeted for the playoffs next season. Now, you have to start wondering if the Bucs can make the playoffs this season. At the moment, they’re definitely in the mix.

The kid has grown up: Look at what Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman has done in the last five games. He’s thrown 13 touchdown passes with just one interception. After it appeared Freeman’s career was crashing last season, the new coaching staff has turned him into a quarterback that doesn’t make many mistakes. Maybe Freeman needs to sustain this pace for the rest of the season and lead this team to the playoffs, but it sure is starting to look like the Bucs have their first franchise quarterback since Doug Williams (if you think William’s brief tenure qualifies) or the first franchise quarterback in team history.

Plenty of help: The best thing about this team, as opposed to the 2010 team Freeman led to a 10-6 record, is that the quarterback doesn’t have to carry this team. Freeman got help Sunday as Adam Heyward scored on a blocked punt and Leonard Johnson returned an interception for a touchdown.

More help: It’s easy to look at Doug Martin’s 68 rushing yards and say the Chargers cooled him off after he went for 251 yards against the Raiders the previous week. But Martin’s much more than just a guy that can run the ball. He’s an all-purpose back and he finished with 119 yards of total offense. It’s the sixth time this season that Martin has had at least 100 yards from scrimmage. It’s also the fifth consecutive game he’s had at least 100 yards from scrimmage.

What’s next: The Buccaneers travel to Carolina next Sunday.

Little precedent for Seahawks' Wilson

August, 27, 2012
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Five rookies are scheduled to start at quarterback in Week 1 this season.

The NFL has previously had no more than two rookie starters at QB on opening day since the 1970 merger, ESPN Stats & Information notes.

Seattle's Russell Wilson isn't quite the same as the other rookies scheduled to start in 2012. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden were drafted in the first two rounds. Wilson lasted until the third, presumably because teams were skeptical about his relative lack of height.

Wilson will become only the sixth rookie since the merger to make an opening-day start at quarterback after entering the NFL as a draft choice taken in the third round or later. That note comes from Elias Sports Bureau. Wilson stands out from that list as well in that he won the job outright, unlike most of the others.

A quick look at Wilson and the other rookie quarterbacks since 1970 to start in Week 1 as third-round-and-later picks:
  • 2012 Seahawks: The team appeared most likely to start free-agent addition Matt Flynn, but Wilson kept exceeding expectations. Their competition was close most of the way, particularly when viewed through the filter that tends to suppress expectations for rookie quarterbacks. The way Wilson performed in the preseason, especially against Kansas City, validated what the Seahawks were seeing behind the scenes. At that point, Wilson won the job decisively.
  • 2005 Chicago Bears: Fourth-rounder Kyle Orton became the starter by default after Rex Grossman suffered a broken ankle and backup Chad Hutchinson failed to impress. The Bears, with a defense that allowed an NFL-low 12.6 points per game, went 10-5 in games Orton started. Thomas Jones carried 314 times for 1,335 yards. Orton tossed nine scoring passes with 13 interceptions, completing 51.6 percent of his passes. The Bears attempted the third-fewest passes in the NFL that season.
  • 2001 Carolina Panthers: Fourth-rounder Chris Weinke became the starter after Jeff Lewis struggled during the preseason. This would be George Seifert's final season as an NFL head coach. Matt Lytle and Dameyune Craig were the other quarterbacks on the roster. Carolina ranked fourth in pass attempts that season. Weinke had 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions while going 1-14 as the starter. Jim Harbaugh was on the roster that season, but did not play.
  • 1982 Baltimore Colts: First-round pick Art Schlichter's out-of-control gambling had to play a role in another rookie, Mike Pagel, emerging as the starter that year. The Colts went 0-8-1 during that strike-shortened season, all with Pagel as the starter. Pagel went 7-8 as a starter the following season.
  • 1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Eighth-round choice Randy Hedberg opened the expansion Bucs' second season as the starter. Gary Huff and Jeb Blount also started that season. Tampa Bay went 2-12, then used the 17th pick of the 1978 draft for Doug Williams.
  • 1973 Buffalo Bills: Joe Ferguson started as a rookie and held the job for 12 consecutive seasons. He won four of his first six starts and went 26-16 as a starter over his first three seasons. Ferguson beat out incumbent Dennis Shaw for the job. The Bills leaned heavily on a ground game featuring O.J. Simpson and future Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure.

The chart breaks out Wilson and the five others for a quick look at their combined 20-36-1 record as rookie starters

ESPN recently published a list of the 25 greatest playoff performances in NFL history.

The ballot I submitted featured five performances for franchises currently aligned in the NFC West. It included three performances for the San Francisco 49ers and three for the Washington Redskins. There were two from Kurt Warner, including one each from his years with St. Louis and Arizona. All 15 were for offensive players, a disparity I couldn't reconcile.

Several worthy performances just missed the cut. You'll find most of them accounted for in the top 25.

Keith Lincoln's 329-yard game (206 rushing, 123 receiving) ranked seventh on my ballot, 13 spots higher than it ranked in the top 25. This performance wasn't on my ballot initially because Lincoln played for the then-AFL San Diego Chargers. I gave it a prominent spot when told this performance was eligible because it appeared in the NFL record book.

All for now. Here's hoping this Saturday ranks among your top five this month.


Unheralded Bucs have a lot to love

October, 1, 2011
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Josh FreemanKim Klement/US PresswireJosh Freeman had reason to celebrate against Atlanta, but when will Bucs fans wholly celebrate him?
TAMPA, Fla. -- If you scoured the stands of Raymond James Stadium on any game day over the past few seasons, you would have seen more replica jerseys for guys like Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott, John Lynch and Warren Sapp than any of the current Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

If you looked in those same stands, you also would have seen a lot of empty seats. The past 10 regular-season home games (all eight last year and the first two this season) have not been sellouts.

Is this a fan base living in the past?

It’s not quite that simple. In fact, things are on the cusp of changing. When the Buccaneers host the Indianapolis Colts on "Monday Night Football," the game will be sold out. So an entire nation will have a chance to view the Buccaneers, who have been in the NFL’s version of the witness-protection program even in their own backyard.

The past 10 home games haven’t been shown on local television, and even fans who go to the games haven’t really had a chance to get to know the NFL’s youngest team (25.17 years was the average age of the opening-day roster) like they knew Brooks, Alstott, Lynch and Sapp.

“It’s a team I want our town to fall back in love with,’’ Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said.

The Bucs went 10-6 last season and are off to a 2-1 start this year, but the speed-dating process really could kick in with the national stage. Once fans really get a look at the Bucs, they could fall in love. Some fans don’t know it yet, but there’s a lot to like about the Bucs.

Let’s take a look:

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Raheem Morris
Fernando Medina/US PRESSWIRE"It's an opportunity to show everybody what they've been missing," coach Raheem Morris said of Tampa Bay's game on "Monday Night Football."
The understated franchise quarterback. Other than cornerback Ronde Barber, the lone holdover from the Jon Gruden/Tony Dungy era, Josh Freeman is the most-well-known Buccaneer. That’s simply because he’s the quarterback, but fans haven’t totally embraced him. They should, because he’s the first true franchise quarterback this team has had at least since Doug Williams, and you could debate whether Williams was around long enough to be considered a franchise quarterback.

Freeman’s physically gifted and already has shown a knack for leading fourth-quarter comebacks. He comes across as a bit shy and soft-spoken in group interviews. But when Freeman, 23, was leading players-only workouts during the lockout, you could easily spot rare leadership skills and more personality than he displays in public.

In the Atlanta game, Freeman stepped outside himself a bit, flapping his wings in what could be interpreted as an imitation of the Falcons’ “Dirty Bird’’ celebration.

“It was good to see him come out of his shell a little bit,’’ running back/fullback Earnest Graham said.

The gregarious head coach. Public displays of emotion aren’t lacking when it comes to Raheem Morris. The guy can talk, sometimes a little more than he should. With the possible exception of Rex Ryan, Morris might have the most entertaining news conferences of any NFL coach. But following Gruden -- who will be in the “Monday Night Football’’ broadcast booth -- and Dungy is not an easy task.

Gruden won a Super Bowl, and Dungy changed the direction of the franchise. Fans still aren’t quite sure what to make of Morris, who remains the league’s youngest head coach at 35. Morris has more public charm than Dungy and Gruden did as coaches. He just needs to keep winning.

The completely unknown portion of "the triplets." When the Bucs started winning last season, that’s the nickname (borrowed from when the Dallas Cowboys had Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith) that was given to Freeman, receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount. Williams and Blount were rookies last year, and both made good first impressions on the field. Williams instantly became Tampa Bay’s No. 1 receiver, and by midseason, Blount had replaced Cadillac Williams as the feature back. Still, there’s been a little apprehension from fans about both of them, and that goes back to their college days.

Blount is most famous for punching an opponent at the end of a game, and Williams was labeled as a "quitter" for leaving the Syracuse football team in his last year of college. But if you get to know them, you’ll see that labels can be deceiving. Williams is the anti-diva wide receiver. He comes across as quiet and humble.

Blount’s a punishing runner on the field, but is gentle off it. When he made his pre-draft visit to One Buccaneer Place, Blount ate his lunch and then went into the kitchen to thank every member of the staff. After last week’s victory in Atlanta, Blount sat in the locker room an hour after the game and told a staff member, "I don’t want to go home."

The big investments on the defensive line. In the past two years, the Bucs have used four draft picks in the first two rounds on defensive linemen. They brought in defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price last year and defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers this year. We’re only starting to see what they can do. Price and McCoy both got hurt as rookies. They’re starting this year, along with Clayborn, and there’s a lot to like.

Price is quiet on the surface, but there’s a depth to him. He’s coming off a rare surgery in which doctors inserted screws into his pelvis, and he's showing signs he can really play. McCoy’s had a gregarious personality from the start, but we’re still waiting to see big results. Clayborn’s outgoing like McCoy and already has made some plays. If this unit can continue growing, the Bucs could have a very good defensive line for a long time.

The new “quarterback’’ of the defense. A lot of fans were upset in the offseason when the Bucs let middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, another holdover from the Gruden days, walk via free agency. They should start getting over that, because third-round draft pick Mason Foster is showing signs he can make more big plays than Ruud ever did. The Bucs were a little hesitant to put too much on Foster right away and started the season by letting outside linebacker Quincy Black wear the radio helmet and call the defensive plays.

By his third career start, Foster had taken on those roles. It might not have been a coincidence that the Bucs went out and had their best defensive performance since the days when Monte Kiffin was running the defense for Gruden.

The Bucs once were beloved by their fans. There’s no reason they can’t be that way again. The parts are in place. The world just needs a chance to get to see and know them.

“It’s an opportunity to show everybody what they’ve been missing,’’ Morris said.

That chance comes Monday night.

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