Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris met with the media on Sunday morning to discuss the team's roster moves on Saturday. The Bucs trimmed their roster below the 53-man limit to 52 players after making all their cuts. Another roster spot was opened up later that night when the team traded quarterback Luke McCown to the Jacksonville Jaguars for what is believed to be a fifth-round pick. Morris said the team is considering different players for the final two roster spots. They are expected to add two players, and sign their practice squad over the next two days.
McCown was rumored to be on the trading block for a few weeks. Morris was asked if the trade of McCown had to do with the development of rookie quarterback Josh Freeman.
"Obviously when you talk about Freeman and the quarterback position, everything we do has a thought process with Freeman," said Morris. "Everything we do (must have Freeman in mind). I'm sacred to say this again. I don't want to have another picture of me on youtube, but we are married to him. Everything we do at that position, around this team, around this organization, the Tampa Bay area, if we clean a street around Mac Dill, it is going to be around Freeman. That is what it has got to be."
McCown was re-signed by the team before free agency and was given a $2.5 million signing bonus with a base salary of $2.5 million in 2009. He lost the derby to be the starting quarterback to veteran Byron Leftwich. McCown was the highest-rated quarterback (86.6), and threw the most touchdown passes (two) in the preseason for the Bucs. McCown was going to be the backup to Leftwich, and the team was concerned about how it was going to get practice reps for Freeman as the third quarterback. With McCown now backing up David Garrard in Jacksonville, Morris said Leftwich's backup would be Freeman.
"Yes and he'll have, I don't know if you say he'll develop quicker but he'll get more reps, which is guaranteed," said Morris. "He'll prepare as the number two. He'll get a chance to learn as a number two, he'll get a chance to be in the meeting room as a the number two, so you got to say yes to his development and how he does it. You still got to do those mirror-training drills we do. You got to catch up, and got to get it going faster. Now it has got to be fast forward training. I got all the confidence in my coaching staff, and that we will get that down."
Freeman was elevated to the backup quarterback spot with the trade of McCown, but statistically Freeman performed the worst of the Bucs quarterbacks in the preseason. He finished the preseason completing 22-of-49 passes (44.8 percent) for 238 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions and a QB rating of 41. Third-string quarterback Josh Johnson finished the preseason completing 17-of-30 passes (56.6 percent) for 218 yards with one touchdown and one pick and a QB rating of 76.8. Neither Freeman nor Johnson played against first-team defenses.
In his career Leftwich has dealt with a number of injuries, and the Bucs have had to play their backup quarterback in every season since 2003 when Brad Johnson was able to start all 16 games. With the odds high that Freeman will see the field in 2009, Morris was asked why Freeman would perform better in the regular season when he has to go against starting defenses.
"When you are preparing for an opponent you have certain plays that are part of your game plan each week," Morris said. "You know exactly what you are going to get, or you have a really good idea of what you are going to get. You are better prepared. You are out there with a plan. You are out there with a plan of attack. You are out there ready to go. All of those things should get better."
Morris also discussed the cuts that the team made on Saturday. The most high profile player released was veteran kicker Matt Bryant. The Buccaneers planned on Bryant competing with kicker Mike Nugent for the spot, but a hamstring injury to Bryant prevented him from kicking in any of the four preseason games.
"It is always tough to cut a guy that has been on the team," said Morris. "That is always a tough decision. We didn't get the competition that we would have liked at kicker. When you don't kick, it is tough to make the football team. You know the saying you can't make the team in the tub, but those are always tough. Nugent is right where he should be. He practiced well. He played well in the games for the most part. He did miss a couple of kicks that we wanted him to make, but they all do. I like his mental toughness and how he bounced back in the preseason. He made some short field goals, but they are short field goals until you miss them, and you need them, and they are important. He is out there knocking down [extra points]. We are going to go to the season, and see what we can do."