Tampa Bay's 2009 NFL Draft class made its debut on the practice field at One Buccaneer Place on Friday.
The Bucs are holding a three-day rookie mini-camp this weekend, and Friday was the first taste of life in the National Football League for Tampa Bay's six draft picks, eight undrafted free agents and 33 try-out players.
All eyes were on Tampa Bay's first-round pick, quarterback Josh Freeman, whose 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame helped him stand out amongst his new teammates.
According to Freeman, who was the 17th overall selection in last weekend's draft, he's off to a good start in the NFL.
"It went well. I think from the morning practice to the afternoon practice we improved collectively as a group vastly," said Freeman. "In the first practice guys were trying to feel their way out, me included, and in the second practice we kind of cut loose and started making some plays."
Freeman said he hasn't gotten around the Tampa area too much since his arrival because when he hasn't been in meetings at One Buc Place he is in his hotel room studying Jeff Jagodzinski's playbook.
Although he'll have to wait to compete for Tampa Bay's starting quarterback job with fellow signal callers Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich, Josh Johnson and Brian Griese, Freeman is already attempting to establish himself as a leader in Tampa Bay.
"Definitely, I feel like the quarterback is a position where you have to lead and try and motivate these guys," said Freeman. "I know it is warmer than a lot of them are used to, so they are trying to push us and see what we are made of. I'm trying to encourage the guys and get the best out of them so we can get better as a group."
The Bucs deemed Freeman their franchise quarterback on Saturday. He was the first quarterback the Bucs selected in the first round since 1994. Needless to say, expectations are high for Freeman, but he doesn't seem to mind.
"I have the same expectations for myself the whole time," said Freeman. "That is to go out and perform well and that is what I intend on doing."
Tampa Bay third-round pick, defensive tackle Roy Miller, has high expectations for himself as well. He openly admits to carrying a chip on his shoulder due to the fact that he was selected in the third round instead of being a first-day draft pick. Miller carried that chip onto the field on Friday.
"I'm just excited to be here," said Miller. "I love this place. Everything about this place is exciting. I'm excited to have been drafted, excited to be here and excited to learn. I'm willing to do whatever I have to do to help out. I've been a leader on every team I've been on. That's what I plan to bring here."
Miller certainly wasn't shy when it came to mixing it up with Tampa Bay's new quarterback, whom he played against in college. Although the players weren't sporting pads in practice (just helmets, shorts and jerseys), that didn't stop Miller from introducing himself to Freeman on the practice field.
"Yeah Roy, it is good to have Roy on my team. Yeah they were late, cheap," Freeman said joking. "No, I don't really pay a lot of attention to who hits me. I just get back up and look where the ball went.
"Yeah he would talk a little trash. I remember that one time [I threw a touchdown when he got to me], but I can't remember him hitting me more than once."
One of the players Freeman threw to early and often Friday was seventh-round pick, wide receiver Sammie Stroughter.
Stroughter, who caught over 70 passes in two different seasons with Oregon State, was hindered by a lacerated kidney and depression that he later overcame. He thinks highly of Freeman and says the quarterback has set the bar high for Tampa Bay's rookie class.
"The sky is the limit for him," Stroughter said of Freeman. "He is a big guy with a big arm and he has the utmost confidence in himself. As much as he matures, we all have to mature especially being rookies."
Although they were battling each other on the practice field, the Bucs rookies were also working through the heat and humidity in Tampa, which some of the players aren't used to.
"The humidity definitely gets me," said Bucs defensive end Kyle Moore, the team's fourth-round pick out of USC. "I sweat already, but I probably sweat off another five pounds in this humidity.
"It was good today. I did some good things out there, but I did some bad things as well. We were just trying get back in the swing of things and get back into football shape. We are learning the defense and getting used to the players. This is a big change for me. I didn't do anything inside today. I did mostly left end today. We're going to do that first, and then as some of the other guys come in I'll probably step inside. I might step inside tomorrow. I don't really know, but right now I'm playing left end."
One of the things that helped the Bucs rookies make the transition from college to the NFL on Friday was not having Tampa Bay's veterans in attendance.
"It takes a little pressure off," said Moore. "Just coming out here with the rookies while we're learning the systems together helps relieve some of the pressure. You are going to have some mistakes, but you try not to have too many."
While they did their best to make a great first impression Friday, the Bucs rookies agreed that their new head coach, Raheem Morris, has already earned their respect.
"He's a players' coach," Moore said of. "I talked to him and he's a very intense guy. He's about business. He's not just out there to stand around like some head coaches do. He's out here getting involved and making sure everybody is working as hard as he is."
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