For years under former head coach Jon Gruden, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers typically started a veteran quarterback. Even if a younger signal caller like Chris Simms or Bruce Gradkowski was starting, the Bucs always had a veteran backup. During Gruden's years, the Bucs had older veterans like Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese, Tim Rattay, and Super Bowl winner Brad Johnson serve as both starters and backups.
Now under head coach Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay has gone the opposite route with an extremely young stable of players at football's most important position. The focal point for the Buccaneers offseason is the development of second-year quarterback Josh Freeman. A year ago, Freeman was a rookie first-round pick trying to learn the playbook and about life in the NFL.
Now the 22-year old Freeman is Tampa Bay's most experienced quarterback with nine NFL starts. Backing him up is third-year pro Josh Johnson, who has started four games in his pro career. Morris said that due to the work ethic and maturity of the Buccaneers quarterbacks, Tampa Bay does not need a veteran quarterback with a lot of NFL experience.
"You're talking about two young men. Josh Freeman was a number one pick – the leader of your team, and the leader over the next amount years that he is able to play," said Morris. "You got a guy that you got a couple of years ago in Josh Johnson, who is young, explosive, and brings a different element to the game. Don't be shocked to see them play together because he is so explosive and he is so talented. The league is going to a Wildcat format, and he can run the football. He creates some mismatches with people. He creates different problems for people. Anything you can do to win a football game you want to try and do."
Morris was asked if the Buccaneers are planning on installing a Wildcat offense that features Johnson. The Bucs' second-year head coach had a coy response.
"I was just using an example, but we'll do whatever we have to do win football games," said Morris. "Josh (Johnson) is dynamic enough to do some of those things. He presents those types of problems. You guys had a glimpse of it there last year when he was running with the football. He is one of those quarterbacks where we talk about all the time that he should always leave the game with 60 yards rushing. Sometimes (him running the ball is) better than a check down."
Last season, Johnson ran for 148 yards on 22 carries (6.7 average) in six total appearances. He threw for 685 yards with four touchdowns and eight interceptions. In three of Johnson's four starts he ran for over 40 yards.
Fighting for the spot to backup Johnson as the third-string quarterback is second-year pro Rudy Carpenter and rookie Jevan Snead. Carpenter was undrafted out of Arizona State, and was on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad in 2009 before the Bucs signed him to their active roster in mid-season.
Snead went undrafted this year out of Ole Miss, and was quickly signed by Tampa Bay in the hours after the draft concluded. Morris likes what he sees out of the bottom two quarterbacks as well.
"Then you get lucky, but you really don't want to say lucky because we have a great scouting department with Mark Dominik. They bring in a guy that is a football junkie, a gym rat," said Morris about Rudy Carpenter. "Rudy Carpenter is smart, dynamic and has been around good coaches and good players. He's coming in helping out and being smart and on his details. These are not your typical young guys who go out and party all night and come to work with no idea. They go out and do things together. You see them out, don't get me wrong, but at the same time they are in the room meeting with the rookies, meeting with the receivers, meeting with the offensive linemen, and making protection calls with the o-line coach. They are football junkies.
"They come to me a lot and talk about defense, and different coverages. It is pretty impressive so I don't want to label them with the average young guy mentality. They got a new guy in there with Snead that they are trying to help out. He's coming in with some really strong core beliefs as well. It is a young group but they are well beyond their years when it comes to the coaching they've had in the past."MORRIS LOSES A MENTOR
It was an emotional day for Morris as he lost a life mentor with the death of his college football coach Joe Gardi. Gardi, 71, passed away on Thursday after suffering a stroke last week. Gardi was Hofstra's head football coach for 16 years from 1990 to 2005. He recruited Morris to Hofstra, and had Morris serve as an assistant coach after his playing career.
"I want to start by saying that my whole family and my entire football family is deeply saddened today by the loss of Coach Gardi," said Morris. "He was a father figure to me. A passionate guy, one of the better teachers, and one of the most influential men that I've known. I wish his family nothing but the best."
Gardi led Hofstra to jump from Division III to being a 1-AA school (currently known as FCS) before Hofstra's football program was shut down in 2009. In his career, Gardi had a record of 119-62-2 with five playoff appearances in the last 10 years that Gardi's was a head coach.
Gardi sent a number of players from Hofstra to the NFL including Bucs running back Kareem Huggins, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston, former New York Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet, and former Tennessee Titans safety Lance Schulters. Morris hosted Gardi at One Buc Place last training camp. Gardi's influence and impact on Morris will not end with Gardi's passing.
"He's the man who came to New Jersey sat in my house and recruited us, talked to my parents. He came there when nobody else really cared or thought anything of it," said Morris. "He gave me a scholarship and brought me to Hofstra. He taught me what its like to be a man. He raised me as far as dealing different types of ethic groups and dealing with different people, how to behave in certain settings and different atmospheres.
"You're talking about being a man, growing, building your character and what you're going to be when you become that guy. You talk about his love of football and his ability to teach it to us, and everybody around including his coaches. He was one of the guys that encouraged me to go into coaching. He encouraged me to become the best teacher I can be in this profession, how to treat it and how to steady people. He's one of those guys that will always be a part of my life and always be a part of my family's life." MORRIS LIKES PROGRESS OF TEAM
Morris said that the Buccaneers are progressing well in installing their offense and defense. Tampa Bay has held six OTAs (organized team activities) and has eight more to come before the team's mandatory mini-camp that will be held later in June.
"I feel like we had a really good week of practice as far as the defense," said Morris. "We had a really good week of practice the whole team-wise. As Coach Gardi used to say, some days the defense is in the barrel and some days the offense is in the barrel. I felt good about the defense having some good days and putting the offense in the barrel. I feel really good about where we are, and really good about some of our young guys development." PRICE STILL AT UCLA
Buccaneers second-round pick Brian Price is still restricted by NFL rules from practicing with the team. Price must wait until UCLA's spring semester ends, and is not believed to be back with the Bucs until mid-June. BUCS' 2010 FANFEST
Morris is eager for the Bucs' FanFest that will be held on Saturday at June 19 from 4:30-9:00 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium. This is the first FanFest that will be held during the evening.
"I have to thank our sponsor Bright House Networks for our FanFest coming up," said Morris. "It is a chance for us to meet our fans. For our fans it's the chance to meet us. We're fired up about that opportunity."
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