Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris made the move that was inevitable when he announced that Josh Freeman would be taking over as the Bucs starting quarterback. The 21-year old rookie will make his first professional start against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 8.
"Josh Freeman will take over as the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," Morris said. "That's no discredit for what Josh Johnson has done for this football team. He's given his best efforts, but due to the preparation and the timing, we want to implement a young man into our system, our town and our community. We think it's the best coming off the bye. It's the most time to prepare. It's the most time for him up until this point, and it's time to see a little Josh Freeman."
The 21-year old rookie Freeman said being named the starter does not change his approach to preparing for the next game, and being the Bucs signal caller.
"No not at all," said Freeman. "All that matters is the Green Bay Packers right now. We have a bye week. I have a little bit more opportunity to prepare for what the Packers are going to bring. It is one week at a time. My mind set right now is to prepare as best as I can and go out and do what I do, which is play football. And try and find a way to get a win."
While Freeman said his preparation is staying the same, as the starter he is trying to take on a different attitude and presence for his teammates.
"Obviously it is something that is very exciting for me," said Freeman. "It is something I've been working towards my entire career. It is something that I'm not taking lightly. I come out with a different swagger I guess, because I'm the guy taking the majority of the snaps and I got to, I guess, radiate that type of swagger so my teammates can catch on to it."
Freeman was selected with the Bucs first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Tampa Bay traded up from the 19th overall pick to the 17th pick held by the Cleveland Browns. Morris and Freeman worked together at Kansas State in 2006, Freeman's freshman year. Freeman said watching the first seven games of the season have given him an opportunity to learn a lot.
"I've learned a lot. I've had the opportunity to watch it from a different point of view, and see things unfold," said Freeman. "I feel like I've really grown as a passer and leader on this team."
Fellow first-round picks Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez started for their teams in Week 1. Freeman was asked how hard it was to be on the bench while other players in his status were starters from day one.
"It was definitely one of those things where I don't feel comfortable sitting on the sideline," said Freeman. "I'm in my element when I'm out on the field, but also I had to look at it as an opportunity to sit back and learn a lot of things. Working with coach Olson, I definitely feel I've learned a lot. I feel a lot more comfortable in this offense."
PewterReport.com has reported that Freeman was overweight earlier this year, and he has some documented conditioning issues dating back to his Kansas State days. On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Greg Olson revealed that Freeman weighed 270 pounds, but later clarified that comment when PewterReport.com asked if he misspoke. Freeman is listed at 6-foot-6, 248 pounds on the team roster. The Pewter Report staff has noticed that Freeman has gotten bulkier since May when he debuted at the team's rookie mini-camp.
"He's probably 265 pounds," Olson said. "He's right in there. He's big. He's more than [the 248 listed on the roster]. He's probably 260. He's at least 260."
When asked if Freeman is currently overweight, Olson said, "No."
Freeman made his professional debut against the New England Patriots in London. With the Bucs down 35-7 in the fourth quarter, Morris inserted Freeman into the game. He was 2-of-4 passing for 16 yards. He was sacked twice. On one of those sacks Freeman fumbled the ball and it was recovered by left tackle Donald Penn. Freeman was also called for a delay of game penalty.
"It was one of those things there were four attempts," Freeman said. "One was a throw away. There were a couple things obviously I felt like I could have done a lot better, but it was one of those things where I got a pass out to [Kellen Winslow]. I completed my first pass to Brian Clark, but I was also high to Sammie Stroughter. It is going to be a matter of just settling down and letting the game come to me, and making the throws I know I can make."
After the game, starting center Jeff Faine teased that the big difference with Freeman in the game was that he could hear Freeman clearly compared to how the soft-spoken rookie speaks in practice. Freeman laughed about that, and explained the difference on game day.
"He was joking about it because in practice I went in there and said it like I'm talking now," Freeman said. "In the game I was making sure there were no questions after we broke the huddle. I enunciated it, said it loud, and let's rock-and-roll."
In part-time action in four preseason games with one start, Freeman completed 44.9 percent of his passes for 238 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He ran the ball eight times for 75 yards and one touchdown. His quarterback rating was 41.0. Since the preseason Freeman said he has put in a lot of work to get better.
"It is one of those things coming in as a rookie you are behind," Freeman said. "You haven't had a season under your belt of playing against NFL defenses, and with me I've never really been in an offense with this type of terminology and volume. It is one of those things where I felt like if I was going to be able to play and be successful on the field I was going to have to come in and put in a lot of time to get ready."
Moving to the backup quarterback spot is Josh Johnson, who started the last four games. He completed 50.4 percent of his passes for 685 yards with four touchdowns and eight interceptions. Johnson was sacked 11 times, and ran the ball 22 times for 148 yards (6.7 average). His quarterback rating was 50.9.
"For sure, just his demeanor," Freeman said of learning from Johnson. "The way he steps up and converted a number of third-and-longs, and just how he played tough. Watching the film, and watching him run the offense, he has a good grasp of the offense. I was watching the things he did well, and learn from some of the mistakes he made."
Veteran free agent addition Byron Leftwich started the Buccaneers first three games of the season. He completed 54.2 percent of his passes for 594 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. His quarterback rating was 71.2. As a team the Bucs have completed only 51.9 percent of their passes with eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The inaccuracy of the passing offense is something that Freeman and the wide receivers are working on improving.
"It is just a matter of getting on the same page. Today we had a lot of seven-on-seven reps with different concepts down the field," said Freeman. "We're trying to time things up with [Antonio Bryant], and time things up with Sammie Stroughter, a number of guys. Trying to get in work and a feel without a live rush, and just dropping back and letting the ball go on time."
Freeman will have to adjust to the speed of the game, but does not see that as being a big issue.
"It is definitely something that you have to adjust. That'll be something that happens fairly quickly," Freeman said. "I think that it is really going to be reading coverages, and getting us in the right protections with Jeff Faine. I feel really good about that. I have a little bit of a cushion to fall back on with Faine. He does a great job of making the calls."