One day after it was revealed by Raheem Morris that Josh Freeman suffered an injured shoulder at Tennessee, Tampa Bay’s top signal caller was extremely limited during Thursday’s afternoon practice at One Buccaneer Place.
Backup quarterback Josh Johnson was one of the last players on the practice field Thursday, and after getting help pulling his orange practice jersey over his shoulder pads, immediately ran over and met with Morris and offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
During initial warmups, Freeman, Johnson and practice-squad member Rudy Carpenter practiced center exchange drills and handing off to running backs. The entire team soon gathered for warmup and stretch drills. While participating, Freeman didn’t perform two specific drills that included arm circles. Freeman didn’t lift his right arm above his waist on one set.
While it may all be precautionary, Freeman will need to show dramatic improvement in order to be able to start Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
Morris commented on Freeman’s situation Thursday afternoon.
“[Freeman] went out [and] threw a couple soft throws early in walk-through this morning. [He's] getting better [and] we just have to see. He's a day-to-day type of guy. He's a big man [and] strong guy. [He] wants to play and wants to be there for his football team. [We] are still preparing J.J. [Josh Johnson] right now.”
Morris talked about what he will need to see from Freeman this week in order for No. 5 to step under center against Carolina on Sunday.
“He's just got to [be able] execute the game plan,” Morris said. “If he can go out and execute the game plan and give us the best chance to win then he will play. It'll be determined by practicing. Josh [Freeman] is one of those guys who can go all the way Saturday and potentially even Sunday. He’s one of those guys who's going to get all the mental reps, all the mental capacity and that type of thing. If he can throw it, then he can throw it. If he can’t, then he can’t.”
Part of the dilemma the Buccaneers' brain trust faces is risking future and more serious injury if Freeman were to play Sunday and took another shot to his right shoulder.
“There is no doubt,” Morris said. “You've always got to put those things in your head. You've always got to be hesitant on what you want to do. You don’t want to rush a guy back [and] get him hurt worse. QB1 [Freeman] is going to be here for the next ten years, hopefully, if not more. Hopefully we are all here with him because QB1 is playing well.
“We have the opportunity to get him ready and get him ready to go. We talked about it early. We are married to the organization with No. 5 so he is the deal. We will make all the decisions accordingly. If he is not ready to go, we won’t play him. If he is ready to go though, we will certainly play him.”
Johnson, who will carry the load should Freeman not recover before game time, also stepped up to the podium and spoke about the responsibility he may need to shoulder Sunday.
“I feel excited. [I] feel real excited to get back out there and play a whole four-quarter game if the opportunity presents itself,” Johnson said. “I'm interested to see how it goes. I've been working hard the past two years for an opportunity like this. Just trying to get out there and execute the game plan that Ollie [offensive coordinator Greg Olson] is preparing and try to help us get a victory.”
Olson was asked about Johnson and if he will need to alter the game plan much for the former University of San Diego star.
"Like you said, Josh [Johnson] has been around here for four years,” Olson said. “He's matured quite a bit. Being around him four years I have always had a great appreciation for the way he prepares and the way he practices. Obviously, we are pulling for Josh Freeman and we feel good about the progress he made from yesterday to today. But if not, we have a tremendous amount of confidence in Josh Johnson and the game plan that he will be able to execute.”
Morris agreed that Johnson isn’t the same quarterback who was forced to start four games in 2009.
“He's a lot more mature,” Morris said. “You're talking about a guy who has been around here the last couple of years and he sits in that room and he sits behind practice [and] he is able to mimic. He is able to go out there on scout team and be detailed and run his own protections and changes on his own. [He does] all the things that we ask him to do on our offense all the time. When he's going into the role right now it's kind of a lot of familiar [and] similar things than he's been doing this whole time he's been preparing. I told Josh Johnson, and so do his coaches, [to] prepare like you are a starter every single week. You're one snap away from being the guy. This could be the week. You never know, so as far as preparation [and] as far as a guy going out there that’s confident [and] knows what to do, we don’t have any worries or any problems with that.
“We are very confident and optimistic about what he can do and what he can go out there and be. We look forward to having him have an opportunity if he does. Certainly want our starter to come back, but if he doesn’t we've got a very quality, capable backup. There is no doubt about that.”
-Victoria Horchak contributed to this report