Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-round pick Josh Freeman met with the Tampa Bay media on his first day to One Buc Place a member of the team. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik traded up two spots in the first round to the 17th overall pick to select the Kansas State quarterback. Freeman expressed a lot of excitement about playing for the Bucs, and being reunited with head coach Raheem Morris who was part of Freeman's coaching staff in the 2006 season.
"It is great to be here," said Freeman. "Going through this whole process, the combine and everything, the advice I was getting from players is to not fall in love with one team because you have no control ultimately over where you are going to end up. I came up here and took my visit with Mark and Rah and it was great. I left here thinking, ‘Man, I don't care how I do it, I have to get to Tampa some day. I'm just really glad it worked out the way it did. I heard a lot about the fans and the community and just being surrounded by great people. I think ultimately that is going to pay off for me as far as my success. I think the type of people you are around plays a big part in your development. I consider myself a good character guy and making some things happen."
It was the first time the Bucs selected a quarterback in the first round of the draft since 1994 when they took Trent Dilfer. Freeman was the third quarterback drafted in the first round after the Detroit Lions took Matthew Stafford and the New York Jets took Mark Sanchez. Freeman was the target of the Buccaneers throughout the draft process. Morris indicated that Freeman was at the top of their draft board.
"I said this statement the other day. If I had the Detroit Lions' pick at number one I might take Josh Freeman. I would be fighting for him," said Morris on Saturday. "I'm really excited. We got our guy. We had a target on him."
"Any time you get a chance to get a franchise quarterback on your football team, a guy that creates excitement, a guy with a big arm, a guy that is accurate, a guy that has talent. He's 6-5, 250-pounds. Can stand in the pocket and deliver the ball, be the guy of the future, you go get him. He addresses all your needs for you. Peyton Manning for example, they had needs on defense when they drafted him as well, and they filled them, and it helped them out in the long run. They've had a long time of winning, and that is what we want to do around here for awhile."
Freeman understands the Buccaneers are a franchise that has rarely ever had a player that was considered to be a franchise quarterback. The lone exception to that was Doug Williams. Freeman was asked if he wants prove that Tampa Bay is an organization that is led by a franchise quarterback.
"Oh definitely," Freeman said. "That is what I've considered myself all along right there with the other two guys. I definitely think from this point on is where I'm really going to start showing people. It is going to be a grind. I have no idea how it is going to work out. All I know is I'm going to do everything in my power to make the Buccaneers a better football team. Whether that is playing this year, not playing this year or a couple of years down the road being the man, whatever it takes to help this team win I'm ready to do."
Williams and Freeman already have a common link in Buccaneer history in their draft slot.
"He's a legend. It was interesting we were talking about it last night. In the 1978 draft he was drafted number 17 overall by the Buccaneers," Freeman said. "It is kind of interesting I guess, but no I mean he is full of advice. Obviously I haven't gotten to spend a whole lot of time with him. I've been in meetings and bouncing all around. I definitely think that being around a legend like that is going to be very beneficial for me."
Certainly Dominik is hoping that Freeman will lead the Bucs to the success that Williams did. The rookie general manager completed his first 100 days as a GM with the 2009 NFL Draft, and understands that scrutiny and reservations that come with taking a quarterback in the first round. Despite the added pressure to succeed that comes with drafting a quarterback in the first round, Dominik felt that Freeman was too good to pass up.
"Last year, we went to play the Kansas City Chiefs and I had the opportunity to see Josh Freeman play live," said Dominik. "That was another part of the evaluation. I saw KU play K-State. That was a great tool. I walked on the field in pre-game and I was amazed at his size, his arm strength and his delivery. With all the pre-game stuff you were thinking, ‘Wow. This guy has a lot of talent.' But there were some questions with him that you just couldn't answer. When we walked through him and started the draft preparation to taking him with the first pick this year, he continued to check the boxes on things that were important to us. The nice thing was having Raheem Morris and the insight to the things you don't know. Does he love football? What time does he show up every day? What time did he show up at K-State? Is he a leader? Do the guys in the locker room like him? Do they respond to him? Raheem was able to address some of those big questions you are worried about at the quarterback position. That's why we were confident in taking him."
Freeman and Morris stayed in touch in the two seasons since they were together at Kansas State. Morris is not the only familiar face at One Buc Place for Freeman. The assistant to the head coach is Jay Kaiser, who spent the past seven seasons on the Kansas State football staff. Freeman and Morris stayed close, and he discussed that during his introductory press conference.
"It was really the entire staff at Kansas State," Freeman said. "That time they had Scott Frost they brought him in, he was a grad assistant, they brought him in really to mentor me about going through the college experience as a quarterback, so I was real tight with Scott and at the same time with [Morris]. Obviously we would compete in practice and he would try to stop me.
"Yeah we developed a great relationship. [Morris] is a very charismatic guy and he taught me a lot about coverages and how they work and what they are looking for in a quarterback. It started then. He thought it was a better move to come back to Tampa. I can't disagree with him, and we talked over the years. When he got the head coaching job it was awesome."
Last season as a junior Freeman completed 224-of-382 passes for 2,945 yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also ran for 14 touchdowns. Freeman is a physical specimen that checks in at 6-foot-6, and 250-pounds. In his three years in college he started 30 games and had a record of 14-16. For his career, Freeman completed 59 percent of his passes (680 out of 1151) for 8,078 yards and 44 touchdowns with 34 interceptions. He ran for 835 yards and 20 touchdowns averaging 3.9 yards per carry.
Dominik and Morris have stated that under their guidance they want the Buccaneers to be a more physical team. They also have made an effort to create competition on the roster, and drafting Freeman adds another player to the quarterback competition. Freeman joins Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich, Josh Johnson, and Brian Griese in the starting quarterback derby.
Last year first-round rookie quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco started and led their teams to the playoffs. While Freeman is going to participate in the quarterback competition, he is not expected win the starting spot like Ryan was expected to do last year as the third overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons. Freeman was asked when he expects to break the starting lineup.
"I really have no expectations," Freeman said. "Other than eventually being the starter. I don't know if it is going to happen this year, next year, or when it is going to be. I'm just going to come in and try and work hard as hard as I can, and put myself in the best position to make this team better."
During the team's first mini-camp in April, McCown took the first-team reps with Johnson backing him up. Griese was unable to attend the practices, and Leftwich was not yet signed. McCown is getting his first opportunity to be the Bucs starting quarterback, but had no problem with the team using their first-round pick for a player at his position. He spoke exclusively with Pewter Report and welcomed Freeman, and Leftwich, to the team.
"Certainly you know me. I view my role in the NFL as a ministry opportunity. Any time I can do something to help a teammate get better I'll do it," said McCown. "That certainly doesn't take away from my competitive edge either. I'm going to try and help Josh get better. At the same time I'm going to do everything I can to stay a leg up. I would gladly take on a mentor role, and do whatever I can, and teach whatever I could to Josh, and hopefully contribute to him having a successful career."
The support that McCown was offering Freeman was not lost on the new rookie.
"It means a lot, and it says a lot about Luke. He's a team guy," Freeman. "If he is willing to help me develop, that is what you want from the older guys and the veteran guys. I'm going to need help. I've never been through this before. Most of those guys have done it before. I'm going to try and learn as much as I can from them."
Freeman has plans for how he will mesh with McCown and his new teammates.
"Really keep your mouth shut and go to work," said Freeman. "Obviously I have a lot of respect for all these guys, I can't wait to get know them a lot better. I'm just going to come in and work as hard as I can, and hope for the best. I think that is the only way a rookie can come in and get respect.
"I knew they have a really good offensive line. I know they have some targets with Kellen [Winslow], [Antonio Bryant], Michael Clayton, and I know they have a lot of talent."
It may take some time before Bucs fans see Freeman throwing passes to those teammates in live game action. Freeman was the third quarterback taken in part because Stafford and Sanchez are regarded as being more ready to start early in their pro careers. Many NFL Draft media evaluators have said that he is an unseasoned player that will need time to develop behind the scenes before seeing the field.
"Honestly I don't know where that comes from," Freeman said. "I've trained with Matthew [Stafford] and I feel like we are very comparable. People get tags placed on them and if you look back at all the first-round quarterbacks you are either boom or bust. I don't understand why I'm the only guy getting that label because if you look at the numbers, me and Matthew had pretty similar numbers throughout our college career."
While some view Freeman as a raw developmental project at quarterback, Freeman believes that he was the best quarterback in the draft.
"I think there is a number of things, I got to work out with those guys. I think they are tremendous players, but I think it is my ability to make plays," Freeman said. "I only got sacked 13 times last season and I think it is due to the fact that I am a big physical presence in the pocket. When you are talking about standing in the pocket and taking hits, delivering the ball, is something I can do with my size. Maybe a three technique getting loose, my size and agility allows me to escape and make plays downfield as well as just obviously being a pocket passer."
With veteran quarterbacks McCown and Leftwich on the roster, many think that one of the veterans will win the starting spot with McCown being the favorite. Being a backup is something that wouldn't bother Freeman even though he has never been a backup for a full season.
"It wouldn't be frustrating," Freeman said. "I understand that it is a different game. I'm a competitive guy and I want to be the starter and do everything I can. At the same time I take the perspective that these guys have been doing it longer than I have and have a better understanding for it. It is just going to be a matter of time before I know the offense and go out there. I don't feel any pressure to go out and win the starting job, but at the same time that is one of my goals is to go out and start whether it is this year, next year, or the year after and eventually being the starter."
For right now, Freeman sounds happy to be apart of the team. He expressed relief that the draft was over, and he landed with the team that he wanted to play for the most. Freeman tried to describe the emotions he felt this weekend in becoming a Buccaneer.
"It is tough to do that," Freeman said. "The feeling I got when I got the call from [Raheem] was something that I can't even describe really. It was so awesome. To have the opportunity to play for an organization like this with coaches that I think a lot about, yeah I was ecstatic honestly. I'm glad they got me."