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Ex-Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden was known for collecting quarterbacks, so when Tampa Bay showed him the door and turned the team over to defensive coordinator Raheem Morris it was assumed the team was heading in a different direction.
And then the first major move Morris made was to draft… a quarterback.
Morris does have a relationship with top pick Josh Freeman from their time together at Kansas State, but the key to Freeman’s development will be Morris’ hire of Jeff Jagodzinski as his offensive coordinator.
Not only is Morris one of the youngest coaches in the league, virtually all of his minimal experience has been on the defensive side of the ball. So Jagodzinski’s fingerprints will be all over Tampa Bay’s offense—which by extension includes a little Mike Sherman and a little Alex Gibbs, among other influences. At its core, Jagodzinski’s scheme will likely be a West Coast offense. But it will be flexible based on the personnel at hand; most importantly, the Bucs are expected to lean first on a power running game, which should create opportunities to take chances down the field.
And as evidenced by Jagodzinski’s exit from Boston College, he’s not afraid to take chances.
Jagodzinski was the Falcons’ offensive line coach under Alex Gibbs, so there will be plenty of zone blocking elements in Tampa Bay’s running game. But as Jagodzinski told Pewter Report, “It’s not so much the scheme, it’s how you teach it and drill it that is going to be the difference on how we do it. I have a lot of confidence in doing it because we’ve been able to do it. It’s a good, solid scheme. It’s not exclusive. We’re still going to have some man schemes and some schemes where we’re pulling the guard on power-type stuff, but that will be the emphasis to begin with on how we’re going to run the football.”
“Our running game is going to be a downhill and physical [group],” Jagodzinski told the Tampa media.
Best of all, the Bucs have the personnel to pull off this scheme; their offensive line may lack marquee names but is solid all the way across, and if Earnest Graham and Carnell Williams get healthy to share the load with free-agent signee Derrick Ward they have a deep enough backfield as well.
A good running game will give the Bucs and Jagodzinski time to develop Freeman as the Bucs’ quarterback of the future, much like the Falcons and Ravens provided Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, respectively, during their rookie seasons. Jagodzinski is credited with at least some of Ryan’s development at Boston College, so tasking him with molding Freeman into an NFL quarterback is hardly out of line.
Moreover, young quarterbacks tend to use their tight end as a security blanket and the Bucs have Freeman covered both ways: they traded for Kellen Winslow in the offseason, and Jagodzinski’s first NFL job was as tight end coach for the Packers from 1999 to 2003—where during his final three seasons Green Bay tight ends ranked 9th, 6th, and 6th in fantasy scoring.
But don’t think the Buccaneer passing game will avoid throwing the ball downfield. Jagodzinski is a chance-taker, remember?
“If you have a strong running game, you’re going to get eight guys in the box and you’re going to have your opportunity to make some plays downfield,” Jagodzinski told the Pewter Report. “When that happens and the ball is up in the air and it’s a 50-50 ball, our guys have to come down with it or nobody. That’s just the way we’re going to coach that.”
Jagodzinski singled out Antonio Bryant as “a very good football player” and also noted that after breaking down Bucs film and charting what players do best, he’s “not going to ask somebody to work on [their] weakness. What is their strength? This is the position we’re going to put you in with a match-up.”
So while Morris is the defensive guy and the player’s coach, he’s entrusted his offense to someone who’s a little more experience, a little more direct, and won’t be shy about taking some chances. Don’t be surprised if that means on-the-job training for Freeman, protected by a solid ground game and a tight end safety net.