TAMPA, Fla. – Josh Freeman believes he's grown as a quarterback and expects it'll be reflected in his play this season.
The fifth-year pro hasn't been particularly sharp through Tampa Bay's first two preseason games, however the Buccaneers aren't concerned because he hasn't played much.
After working just four series — a total of 21 plays — in losses to Baltimore and New England, Freeman is expected to see extensive action in Saturday night's exhibition at Miami.
That doesn't necessarily mean he believes he has to have a big game passing to prove he's ready for the regular season.
Instead, Freeman says he's focused on running the offense, protecting the football and making sound decisions.
"We want to come out and have a fast start. That's the main goal," Freeman said. "We have the ability to, for sure. It's just going to be a matter of guys locking in, focusing and ultimately doing their job, and me doing my job as well."
The 25-year-old is coming off a season in which he became the franchise's first 4,000-yard passer, however his inconsistency down the stretch contributed to a slide that kept the Bucs out of the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
And while Freeman insists he doesn't pay attention to criticism from outside the Bucs locker room, there's no escaping that he enters the final season of his contract needing to show he's worthy of the hefty pay raise he could be in line for next year.
Coach Greg Schiano said Freeman has had a good training camp. He's also stressed that Freeman's lack of production through two preseason games is not cause for alarm.
Freeman has completed six of 10 passes for 42 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked once and led a field goal drive in the exhibition opener against the Ravens, then was sacked three times in eight plays during the two series he played against the Patriots last week.
Schiano said he expects Freeman to play well against the Dolphins in what likely will be the quarterback's final tuneup for the Set. 8 regular season opener against the New York Jets.
"What I'd like to see him do, (for) as long as he plays (is) what I'd like to see him do in a regular season game: run the offense effectively," Schiano said. "That's the number one job of the quarterback, so all the things that go with it."
Freeman threw for 4,065 yards, 27 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his first season in a system installed by offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. He expects to be better in 2013, in part because he has a better grasp of the scheme.
"It's knowledge of the offense, for sure — understanding the formations, the concepts, where we're trying to go with the ball," Freeman said. "And on the back end, the receivers are better understanding the system as well. Those guys have done a great job this offseason just working on all our different read concepts and just understanding our protection calls and how we're using them in this system."
Schiano said Freeman not only has a better command on the offense, but is making wiser decisions with the football.
"Not only understanding of our offense which he has a much better grasp on, but understanding of the game of football, situational football — down and distance, time remaining, score, weather conditions — all that stuff he has a much better grip on how that effects what he has to do and what the offense is going to be able to do," the coach added. "But that's the maturation of a quarterback, in my opinion, so he's doing that."
Freeman will play more against Miami, although Schiano did not say how much. The quarterback just wants to make the most of whatever playing time he does get.
"You go out there with a goal in mind, and you want to see it through. ... But you have to understand that it is preseason," Freeman said. "We've got bigger goals ahead."