Yotter: Footwork failings or not, it's time

Josh Freeman has spent considerable time working on his mechanics and learning the Vikings offense in the last month. There are no guarantees he is ready to start again, but it's time to find out.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has insisted several times that he doesn't need to see Josh Freeman play another game this season to get a complete assessment on him. And, yet, it's time to get him in the game.

The Vikings continue to work with Freeman on his footwork and he might not be ready for game action. And, yet, it's time.

In reality, it can't be worse than what Christian Ponder has provided to this point, can it? The answer actually might be "yes," but at this point the evaluation on Ponder has to be complete, which is where the Vikings need to get with Freeman in the next six weeks.

There are still signs that accuracy remains an issue with Freeman and that is why the Vikings have continued to work with him on the side after every practice.

"We are. We're doing some things before and after practice to help with some things that we want to help him with to be a better quarterback and help us on the field," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "That's a part of it. We do the same with all our quarterbacks. Nothing out of the ordinary."

That's downplaying it a bit. The Vikings have put in extra time with Freeman to correct some issues with his footwork. It seems to be the focus of the quarterback coaches to resolve the accuracy issues that have been a part of Freeman's career in Tampa Bay and were exacerbated in his only start this season with the Vikings.

Against the New York Giants, Freeman turned in one of the worst quarterback performances in recent Vikings memory. He completed only 20 of 53 passes (a putrid 37.7 completion percentage) for 190 yards and a measly 3.58 yards per attempt. It all equaled a 40.6 passer rating with an incredible 16 overthrows.

"It was tough, obviously. But it was more just settling down, really, because I was out there, I was fired up," Freeman said recently, reflecting on his only start to date for the Vikings. "I felt good about everything, felt good about the plan and I just needed to relax and play my game. It was an interesting experience, learn from it, gather what I can from it and keep moving."

Spielman called the opportunity to sign Freeman "unique" and "rare," – a starting quarterback doesn't become available during the season very often. The general manager took full responsibility for that signing, but said the decision on when to play Freeman is a coaching decision.

"We'll sit there and evaluate where he's at and we'll evaluate where all our quarterbacks are. Everybody is looking for the franchise quarterback," Spielman said earlier this month. "If you're not out there always looking and trying to find until you actually find a Peyton Manning, then I feel you're not doing your job. Our job is to be aggressive, to try and get that position solidified."

Obviously, that hasn't happened yet. As a team, the Vikings have a 72.5 passer rating. Cassel (86.1) leads the way, followed by Ponder (74.9) and then Freeman (40.6).

For the last month, the Vikings have seemed determined to have Freeman go through additional on-field work with quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson, trying to improve his accuracy. He has worked with stationary targets and moving targets. The key, according to all surveyed parties on and off the record, seems to be his footwork.

"I think most of it was the footwork stuff that they like to do, some of the drops that I really haven't had any experience in, finding a way to do it kind of in their way, but also so I feel comfortable getting back, getting balanced and getting the ball out," Freeman said.

The Vikings aren't going to the playoffs. There is no "saving the season" at this point. They know what they have in Ponder. More than 2½ years into his tenure, he is still searching for consistency. They apparently are convinced that Cassel is nothing more than a backup/mentor. And that brings us back to Freeman.

In his first start, he was so erratic that receivers were left shaking their heads in disbelief. And, yet, he has the best stature, natural feel for the pocket and strongest arm on the roster.

Frazier said the work on Freeman's mechanics has not been the "determining factor" in him not starting in the last month, and the head coach said there are no regrets in signing him. There shouldn't be. Teams have spent far more than $2 million to try to solidify their quarterback situation. Heck, they're spending $3.7 million on Cassel as their backup this year.

They aren't making the playoffs anymore and the quarterback rotation to this point has already been worthy of ridicule.

For his part, Freeman said he knows the offense better than he did during his Oct. 21 start after only two weeks on the roster. He also knows his teammates, his receivers and his coaches better.

If Freeman is named the starter for Sunday, it might not be pretty. He shows signs of inaccuracy in practice. Balls could go sailing over heads and dive into the ground, but sometime in the next month the Vikings have to get him into a game and figure out if they have a quarterback currently on their roster worthy of starting status.

"You live to play on Sundays," Freeman said.

Sometime in the next few weeks, perhaps even this Sunday, it's time.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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