Josh Freeman is 20 pounds lighter, has more agility and says he is throwing the ball better because of improved flexibility.
That's all well and good, but the key to the quarterback's success will be what happens between the ears, says new Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.
Despite his svelte physique, Freeman agreed Thursday at the first day of the Bucs camp. He weighed in at 237 pounds compared to 257 a year ago.
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After throwing 22 interceptions last season with 16 touchdowns following a 25 TD/6 INT season, Freeman admits his decision-making has to improve. He says he has to discard his gunslinger mentality.
In what might be considered a sign of growth, the 6-foot-6-inch 24 year-old says he has stopped believing he can do everything.
He might have the perfect teacher in Sullivan, who was quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants last year and helped Eli Manning turn in one of his best seasons.
Sullivan sees the same fire in Freeman's eyes that he saw in Manning's last year after he was coming off a disappointing 2010 season during which he threw a career-high 25 interceptions. Manning led the Giants to last year's Super Bowl title.
"Last season left Josh with a bad taste in his
mouth," Sullivan said. "Eli heard a lot of criticism and wanted to put that behind him and move forward. Josh wants to do the same thing and is putting in a lot of hard work and progressing nicely. He is receptive to everything we are telling him."
Sullivan is trying to instill in Freeman a mentality that says being the unquestioned leader of the offense comes with a certain responsibility to avoid getting reckless with the football.
He doesn't want to take away Freeman's spirit and ability to make things out of nothing but sounds like a guy who believes there is a thin line between being daring and foolish.
"Last year, I think Josh may have forced a few too many things," Sullivan said. "He is a competitive guy and wants to do well. For us, it's a matter of reinforcing from a decision-making standpoint that you may have to take a sack and you may have to throw it away. It's not always going to be there, and you live to fight another day.
"There will be times when we have to take a chance and go for broke. But as long as the game is within reach, you have to stay within a comfortable rhythm and not get so caught up in the scoreboard and stay within each play."
Freeman's weight loss was more the result of a change in living habits than an actual attempt to drop weight. It's part of his overall plan to achieve excellence.
"Everybody says I got faster, but really I don't say I got noticeably faster or noticeably stronger or weaker. I have a lot more flexibility throwing the ball and physically I feel great," Freeman said.
"I had a great discussion with Greg Olson (Bucs offensive coordinator last year) about trying to be professional in every aspect of my life, and diet was one thing we talked about. When I was younger, I ate everything. Now I want to have an excellent diet, and that means no Taco Bells and more fruits and vegetables."
Freeman will have a better receiving corps this year, headed by free-agent acquisition Vincent Jackson, and the Bucs will look to run first, a philosophy head coach Greg Schiano and Sullivan share.
"The key for us is to use the weapons we have and those we acquired, like (offensive tackle) Carl Nicks and Jackson and to put Josh into a better situation to throw the deep pass," Sullivan said. "Coach Schiano's philosophy and my philosophy mesh well together in that there is a toughness and mindset that comes with playing that way.
"Vincent is a dominant physical presence and has the potential to be the type of receiver who brings two-high coverage that creates a situation where if the defense wants to play single-high coverage and play him one-on-one, they better have somebody better than him. If that is not the case and they have to roll towards him, that will open up things in the run game."
n Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers defensive lineman who signed on as a free agent in a symbolic gesture last May, announced his retirement, saying he wanted to allow the Bucs to fill the roster spot and be at full strength.
n Offensive tackle Donald Penn strained his calf when he was training in Los Angeles and will be unable to practice for an indefinite period of time (estimated a couple of weeks) reducing the Bucs list of offensive linemen to 14.
n Talk at the Bucs camp Thursday centered on Schiano's conditioning test. Not everyone passed, and those who failed will be subject to additional drills until they do, the coach said. "I won't get into the specifics of what will be done to the guys who didn't meet the minimum standards, but there will be consequences," Schiano said.
n The Bucs made two moves Thursday, trading defensive lineman Brian Price, who started 14 games last year, to the Chicago Bears for an undisclosed draft pick and cutting receiver Dezmon Briscoe, who led the Bucs last year with 6 touchdown receptions. Price had his troubles, missing some offseason workouts and then getting into a fight with top draft pick Mark Barron.
n The Bucs also placed three defensive players on the preseason physically unable to perform list in defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, tackle Amobi Okoye and linebacker Adam Hayward.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.