The Buccaneers youth movement got accelerated into another level with the elevation of second-year quarterback Josh Johnson to the starting role. Johnson replaced Byron Leftwich in the fourth quarter of the Bucs 24-0 loss to the New York Giants last Sunday. On Monday, head coach Raheem Morris made Johnson the starter for this Sunday's game at Washington.
Many Bucs fans have questioned the decision to start Johnson over first-round pick Josh Freeman. Tampa Bay moved up two spots in the first round of the draft to select Freeman with the 17th overall pick. The Buccaneers have anointed Freeman as their future franchise quarterback. Freeman responded to why he was passed over for the starting job for the time being.
"I have no idea. That's management's call," said Freeman. "All I can do is come to practice everyday and give it my best and prepare my best. I'm preparing the same. Coach Olson always tells me to prepare like a starter regardless of your position on the depth chart. That's what I'm doing.
"Of course I want to be on the field just like any competitor. But I understand that Raheem has a plan and we're going along with that. I just want to help the team win."
Freeman had some struggles in training camp and the preseason in the limited amount of reps that he got. Freeman, 21, played in all four preseason games and completed 44.9 percent of his passes (22-of-49) with one touchdown and three interceptions. Going into his fourth week of practice during the regular season, Freeman feels that he is improving.
"I feel a lot better," said Freeman. "There were a lot of calls that took some getting used to, but right now I feel comfortable. If they need me, I can go in and be successful.
"I have a lot of confidence in my abilities. Week in and week out, I feel myself growing as a quarterback in this offense. My confidence is definitely growing, and I'd feel comfortable going in and playing."
Johnson completed four passes for 36 yards on 10 attempts against the Giants. He did not turn the ball over and had a touchdown pass dropped. Throughout the first three weeks of the season, Freeman and Johnson were splitting the backup reps behind Leftwich even though Johnson was the game day backup. The organization wanted to continue to get Freeman snaps in practice to continue his development towards being their starting quarterback. Johnson was asked if he views his time as the starter as temporary until the organization deems Freeman ready to start.
"I don't look at it like that," said Johnson. "[Freeman] was obviously drafted in the first round and he is the future of the franchise. This is obvious. I feel like he will be a good quarterback and see him everyday. Right now is my opportunity. What happens down in the future is really out of my control. All I can do is control what goes on Sunday."
Freeman said he learned a lot from Leftwich through the first three weeks of the season. The Bucs offense produced well with Leftwich the first two weeks of the season, but had a collapse against New York when they had only 86 yards of total offense and five first downs.
"I learned how to prepare and the attitude he brings," Freeman said of watching Leftwich. "Byron showed me a lot in terms of how to be a quarterback in this league. When Byron was one and I was three, I was getting a lot of the two reps in practice with Josh. I'm not sure how the reps will be distributed this week, but I will do the best I can with the ones I receive."
For now Freeman said he would continue to be a good teammate and be supportive of Johnson.
"Josh has been preparing for this his whole career," said Freeman. "I'm expecting big things out of Josh Johnson this Sunday."