Josh Freeman needs to rebound for Bucs in 2012

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Around the League will examine one key figure under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season. Next up: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Under Pressure: Josh Freeman

Under Pressure

Around the League will examine one key player under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season:

AFC East
Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
49ers | Cardinals | Rams | Seahawks

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are doing everything in their power to quickly move on from last season's 4-12 disaster.

They have a new coach in Greg Schiano, and improved personnel thanks to a higher operational budget. But one thing that hasn't changed is the man behind center.

This is either very good or very bad, depending on which Josh Freeman shows up.

Freeman was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2011 season, and not just from a team standpoint. Freeman appeared to be an up-and-coming star in 2010, when he threw for more than 3,400 yards, 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions. The bottom fell out in his third season, however, as Freeman slumped to 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. In one calendar year, his passer rating plummeted more than 20 points.

The Bucs have added weapons on offense in wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin. Freeman now has the luxury of one of the best guards in the game in Carl Nicks.

Now Freeman needs to make the most of what he's been given. He impressed management and coaches by showing up to OTAs 20 pounds lighter. General manager Mark Dominik said Freeman's new physique shows "a guy who's completely committed to getting his season back on track and hitting the reset button and getting his game back."

Of course, fitness is only a small part of the puzzle. Freeman is going to have to get out of the bad habits that played a role in the 10-game losing streak that ended Tampa Bay's season. The upshot here is this isn't a story about a player who's yet to show his potential. The Bucs watched Freeman blossom in 2010 into a franchise quarterback. It's in him, they just need to figure out how to bring it back out.

"One of the biggest things for a wide receiver to consider is the quarterback situation," Jackson told NFL.com's Jeff Darlington last week. "You want to go where there's a guy who can make plays. When I met Josh, I knew right away he was special. I'm a football guy. I study film. I've seen some of Josh's games. I know he's special."

The Bucs think Freeman is special, too. If he can bounce back, Tampa Bay's fortunes may be radically different this season.

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