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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. I don’t like general manager Mark Dominik’s decision to trade backup quarterback Luke McCown to Jacksonville at all, and it has very little to do with McCown.
This decision was all about Josh Freeman, the team’s 2009 first-round draft pick, and the rationale is a bit of a head-scratcher.
First I’ll tell you what this move accomplished for the Buccaneers and some of the reasoning that went into it from the team’s perspective. Then I’ll tell you why I don’t like the move and feel Dominik made a mistake.
Perhaps the biggest reason McCown was shipped to the Jaguars was because the team’s great decision to keep four quarterbacks presented the Bucs with a great problem. With Byron Leftwich as the starter and McCown as the backup, how was Josh Freeman going to develop in 2009 as the third-string quarterback? The starting QB typically gets the most reps in practice, somewhere between 80-95 percent, depending on the team. The backup quarterback gets the rest, and the third-string quarterback is relegated to running the scout team offense – not Tampa Bay’s offense.
The Bucs wanted to keep all four quarterbacks because they genuinely liked specific traits about each one, but doing so really doesn’t help Freeman use the months of September through December in his rookie season to truly develop within the offense, gain the necessary timing with the starters and be prepared to contend for the starting role in 2010. There is merit to the notion of trading McCown to make way for Freeman for this reason, but it certainly troubles me to think the Bucs’ brass lacked the necessary foresight to understand what keeping four quarterbacks actually meant.
I hope Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris didn’t come to the conclusion on Saturday by saying, “Gee, that swell idea of keeping four quarterbacks, including two veterans, really prohibits Freeman from developing this year. How is he going to get any reps as the third-string quarterback?” I would really hope that conclusion was better thought out, although given some of the decisions that the new regime has made this offseason, I am beginning to have some doubts.
This trade also takes away from any potential locker room division over the starting quarterback by eliminating any McCown factions on the team, which has to be viewed as a positive. Now McCown is not a viable option and the team must unite around Leftwich.
Should Leftwich struggle early or falter, there will likely be less locker room chatter or clamoring for Freeman because of his rookie status. This eliminates the pressure on Morris to make a QB switch unless he’s ready to do so.
Morris and new offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who has also served as the quarterbacks coach for the last three years, have been the biggest proponents for getting Freeman into the backup QB role to expedite his development and favored the trade. Dominik was less reluctant in doing so because his vision all along was to have Freeman sit and learn in 2009. He even stated this on Friday night during the Bucs TV broadcast of the preseason finale to color commentator John Lynch, who has been campaigning for the team to start Freeman.
“You know it’s really a plan you want to stick to, John,” Dominik said. “It’s important for him to develop slowly and to be able to become the quarterback we want him to be long-term. I think you saw tonight early on that he relied on his feet a lot instead of sitting in the pocket and getting comfortable. It just comes with not only play-time experience, but then also practice experience.”
Dominik has never admitted to me or stated publicly that the team could struggle early due to a rugged 2009 schedule that features all four NFC East teams in the first five weeks of the season. Yet he has to know that there’s a better than decent chance his team could be below .500 after five games.
Even with lowered expectations heading into the season, fans may be clamoring for a quarterback change if the team struggles behind Leftwich, who has not been fully embraced by the Bucs fan base. At some point in time, there will be a cry for the backup quarterback, and now that’s Freeman due to the decision to trade McCown. Dominik had to have had his mind changed by Morris on Saturday because he’s the one who pulled the trigger on the trade that sent McCown to Jacksonville.
That’s where I find fault in the McCown trade because it betrays the organization’s plan from the start, which was to sit Freeman in 2009 unless he earned it and not rush him into the starting lineup too soon for fear of getting him shell-shocked by NFL defenses as a rookie. Guess what? Freeman didn’t earn it.
Freeman completed only 22-of-49 passes (44.9 percent) with one touchdown and a team-high three interceptions and a team-low QB rating of 41. Not only did Freeman not earn the starting job, he didn’t earn the backup job, either. McCown did and one could argue that Josh Johnson is more deserving of the backup job, given his team-high 56.7 completion percentage and 76.8 QB rating, which is a few spots higher than Leftwich’s.
The decision to elevate Freeman to the backup spot and trade McCown was based on the need to properly develop him in-season by giving him some reps. That’s a valid – yet lousy – reason, and here’s why.
Since drafting him in April, the team relegated Freeman to third-string reps with a few exceptions during a handful of practices in the OTAs, mini-camp and training camp. That was by design as the Bucs wanted to find their starting quarterback from a pool that only consisted of Leftwich and McCown. Freeman was given a chance to enter the mix during the first week of camp, but he struggled with interceptions and was quickly taken out of the mix.
The plan carried over into the preseason with Freeman being relegated to playing exclusively with second- and third-string players and against second- and third-string defenders. At no point in time this summer was he prepared to be the Bucs starter. Now Freeman is only one snap away from playing in a game with Jeff Faine for the first time, throwing to Antonio Bryant for the first time and playing against an NFL starting defense for the first time.
The Bucs’ plan for Freeman was either well thought out and ridiculously reversed at the last minute, or not well thought out at all. Either way, I think it stinks.
However, I don’t think Freeman stinks. I saw glimpses of real promise from him at times during training camp and the preseason. I think he has a legitimate shot of really panning out and becoming a very good pro quarterback, but I also think it will take time and that he will not become an instant star the way Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco did last year and the way Mark Sanchez may do so this year.
Given the fact that Leftwich is an oft-injured journeyman that is on his fourth team in four years, and was a 48.8 percent passer in the preseason with a 72.2 QB rating, Freeman will indeed play in 2009. The troubling thing is that I haven’t seen much evidence that tells me he’s ready other than a successful two-minute drive against Houston in which Freeman completed his first touchdown pass of the preseason.
McCown could have been an effective backup and a nice stopgap between Leftwich and Freeman this season. He had a legitimate chance to win the starting job and narrowly lost. What was his consolation prize for being the Bucs’ top-rated passer (86.6 QB rating)? He had the most trade value and now he’s backing up David Garrard in Jacksonville.
Freeman’s prize is a backup quarterback job he didn’t earn in the preseason as the Bucs’ plan for him was suddenly and unwisely changed at the last minute.
FAB 2. Every quarterback on the Bucs roster won on Saturday night when McCown was dealt to Jacksonville for a third-day draft pick.
Leftwich won by not having his closest veteran competition being in position to breathe down his neck during the regular season. Leftwich deserves a short leash given an uninspiring preseason in which the seven-year veteran completed less than 50 percent (48.8) of his passes, but instead will get a longer one by default because McCown is gone.
If the Bucs’ season falls apart at the start of the campaign, the chants for the backup quarterback won’t be coming as quickly or as boisterously without a suitable veteran option present. That buys Leftwich more time as the starter to produce and hang on to his job.
Number-one pick Freeman won because he was handed the backup role, a job he did not earn in the preseason. Now it’s up to Freeman to take advantage of the situation and really accelerate his learning curve by working more with the starters on offense.
Perhaps the biggest winner is Johnson, who was on the verge of being relegated to being the fourth-string quarterback for a second year. The fourth-string quarterback on any football team does not get any reps as the scout team reps are typically given to the third-string signal caller. Johnson lucked out last year as injuries to both Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese allowed him to get scout team reps where he was able to refine his mechanics and work on his accuracy, which improved during the season.
Johnson really stepped up against Houston, completing 12-of-21 passes for 182 yards with one touchdown and one interception, in addition to rushing for 43 yards on five carries (8.6 avg.) in the second half. His preseason totals were second-best on the team behind McCown as he completed 17-of-30 passes (56.7 percent) for 218 yards with one TD and one INT and a QB rating of 76.8.
The Bucs had planned on keeping Johnson as part of four quarterbacks even before Friday’s contest against the Texans, but the fact that he moved the ball well and showed considerable poise in the fourth quarter after overcoming a shaky start in the third quarter gave the team confidence to unload McCown. The truth is that unless hr produced a winning record with McCown at the helm, he wasn’t going to be around in 2010 anyway. The same holds true for Leftwich, by the way.
But Johnson figures to be around. He was smart enough to pick up the offense with mental reps and limited actual reps in training camp. At times, you thought he was clearly the odd man out because he was a bystander during practice, but he never gave in to the uphill battle and ended up climbing that hill for the second straight year by showcasing his physical gifts in brief preseason action. The difference this time around was more accurate passing.
Johnson overcame the odds and put himself in position to be Freeman’s backup quarterback in 2010 and perhaps beyond. In fact, if Freeman struggles over the next year or two, the team may switch gears and turn to Johnson as the stopgap quarterback until the man bestowed with the five-year, $36 million contract is ready to assume the reins as the full-time starter.
Pewter Report even knows of one veteran on offense that thinks Johnson is currently the best quarterback on the team. Not only did Johnson earn scout team reps as the third-string quarterback due to his performance in the preseason and McCown’s departure, the second-year signal caller also earned a great deal of respect.
FAB 3. I don’t like the way Matt Bryant handled himself during the supposed kicker competition this year, and I think his behavior directly affected his chances of making the team. Bryant opted to stay away from One Buc Place during the offseason and took an antagonistic point of view towards Mike Nugent, who is a charismatic, likeable guy, upon his return.
Team sources tell Pewter Report that Bryant, who has been an 84 percent kicker in three out of the last four seasons, including the last two, was livid over Nugent’s signing back in March, especially the decision to give him a $2.5 million contract.
With Bryant either not training during the summer or training away from the team facility, he might not have prepared his hamstring for the rigors of training camp because just a week into workouts he suffered a severe hamstring pull that prevented him from kicking in any of the preseason games. We’ll never know if Bryant’s participation in voluntary OTAs and the team’s strength and conditioning work at One Buc Place might have prevented the 34-year old kicker from suffering such a debilitating hamstring injury, but because he chose to stay away, it cannot be ruled out, either.
Last year, Bryant garnered a lot of respect and obvious sympathy from fans and the Tampa Bay community for the way he handled the in-season death of his infant son, Tryson. Yet he has to realize that football is about competing and that no matter the personal tragedies nor the community service work, he has to perform on the football field in order to keep his job – just like every other Buccaneer.
Nugent was signed because he is seven years younger and has a more powerful leg that can help the Bucs make longer field goals and have deeper kickoffs. Despite having a team-record 62-yard field goal on his resume`, Bryant struggled with kickoffs and on field goals from beyond 45 yards last year, and was hitting less than 40 percent of those kicks.
I expected a veteran and a tough-talking Texan like Bryant to show up every day during the OTAs and rise to the challenge of beating out Nugent, not ducking him by staying away. Bryant did get some tough talk, however, doing a radio interview last week on Tampa Bay’s 97X in which he called out Nugent, head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik, as reported in the St. Petersburg Times.
“Did they tell [Nugent] something to make him think this was the best opportunity? Or did he look at a number of teams and single me out?” Bryant said. “If he singled me out, then he’s out of his damn mind. If I would have been 100 percent healthy, like we do back home, you take somebody out behind the woodshed and kick their butt. But that hasn’t been the case, so you go on with your business.”
Bryant discussed the meeting with the head coach that Morris first volunteered to the media during the press conference, giving an ultimatum that the kicker needed to kick in the preseason finale against Houston to have any chance of saving his job. Bryant indicated that his strained hamstring was close to being ready to kick.
“I noticed that Raheem got a lot of flack from that newspaper article,” Bryant said. “I can tell you he wasn’t the only one in the room.”
That meant that Dominik was present, too. Not a smart way for Bryant to try to save his job in the final hour, eh?
Bryant’s injury likely cost him his job with Tampa Bay due to the old training camp axiom – you can’t make the club in the tub. But his poor attitude throughout the whole process and his lack of competitiveness during the summer likely removed any of the benefit of the doubt that Morris and Dominik could have extended him.
FAB 4. I tried really hard this week to find somebody at One Buccaneer Place – a player, a coach someone – who would tell me that the firing of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski was a bad thing and that the move has created chaos and turmoil as some newspaper columnists would have you believe. The thing is that I couldn’t.
I spoke on the record and off the record and the team is taking Raheem Morris’ decision to can Jagodzinski and promote quarterbacks coach Greg Olson in stride.
Yes, Morris and general manager Mark Dominik made a bad decision in hiring Jagodzinski, who they feel did not have the work ethic and attention to details to become an NFL offensive coordinator – at least in Tampa Bay. But the players and coaches believe that admitting the mistake early and doing something about it showed guts and leadership. Here’s what some of them had to say on the record.
“As a football player, you’ve got to be able to not blink in any situation,” Bucs wide receiver Brian Clark said. “If something happens, don’t blink. Just continue on moving forward. It hasn’t been a big distraction or a big obstacle for this team to go over. This is a business. Guys get traded and guys get cut. Now it’s just happened to our staff. We’re used to it. This is the NFL. You know what they say, ‘Not For Long.’ There’s constant change and you have to be able to prove yourself as a player or a coach. We just saw an example of that with Coach Jags.
“I didn’t even see hiring him as a mistake. They tried something, went in a direction and then had to change directions and did. Coach Morris evaluated the situation and wanted to go in a new direction. Don’t get caught up in the fact that he’s a rookie head coach making all these sudden changes. No, that’s what you have to do. You have to be on your toes and evaluate and monitor. He’s seeing things and monitoring every individual he comes in contact with. I respect him even more for making a decision that everyone may not care for and one that may cause him to be scrutinized and judged on, and to still make that decision for the betterment of the team? That’s what a leader is all about and I commend him for it. Coach is always telling us to ‘be your best self’ regardless of what people may say and regardless of how people may look at you. You have to be your best self and bring what you can bring to this organization. He’s showing his best self right now in his leadership ability and he will continue to show that as this season plays out.”
Bucs center Jeff Faine shrugged off the notion that losing Jagodzinski was a big deal, even the timing of the offensive coordinator change with it coming so close to the start of the season.
“I definitely didn’t sense there would be a change like this, but it just wasn’t a good fit [with Jagodzinski],” Faine said. “This was a tough decision to do this now as an organization, but I would have rather them make it then not make it. Me being a business owner, I know it’s tough to fire somebody, especially someone who has moved their family down here and changed their whole life for this. Then [Dominik and Morris] have to answer to [the Glazers] too, and say why they had to fire the guy – and he still gets paid. This move says a lot the leadership we have.
“I’m excited about the possibilities with Coach Olson. I knew he was going to be a coordinator again one day because he’s a guy on the rise. He was definitely going to have some opportunities soon and obviously this was a lot sooner than what he or others expected, but I think he’s taking this with open arms and I think he’ll do a great job.”
Faine said he and the players didn’t exactly see the problems that Jagodzinski was having with the staff first hand.
“It’s tough as a player to see that so early because the real bullets aren’t flying yet,” Faine said. “Now as a coach, they are behind closed doors for hours with each other and they obviously felt like something needed to be done and they made those changes. I support Coach Ollie and look forward to working with him. We have a saying that distractions are only distractions when you let them distract you. People can say this is a distraction, but I don’t think it is. I’m not distracted. We’re just rolling with a new play-caller, that’s all.”
Even the rookies appear to be taking the news of the sudden offensive coordinator switch in stride.
“Coach Raheem always preaches to us to never blink and never waver,” said Bucs wide receiver Sammie Stroughter. “That’s one thing that we have to do through all of the trials and tribulations and the ups and the downs. We can’t blink. All we can do is pick each other up because at the end of the day all that really matters is the 53 men on this locker room. We can’t blink over this. We’ve got a long season ahead and we’re ready to be our best selves.”
After Friday night’s 27-20 loss to Houston, I asked Morris if he sensed any chaos over the decision to fire Jagodzinski and he didn’t hesitate at all when responding.
“It hasn’t affected my building and it hasn’t affected our team,” Morris said. “We have been based on building mental toughness. We have been based on building the fact that these guys are stronger than everybody else and are defying the odds. That’s what they’ve been doing right now – being mentally tough about it. Whether it happens with the players or it happens on the coaching staff, we need the next guy to step up and make plays. I’m pretty excited about that. There may be a perception issue of chaos out there, but the reality is that’s not happening at One Buc Place. There’s no turmoil.”
I’ve known Morris long enough to know when to believe him, and I believe him on this one.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• The big, unasked question to Bucs general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris in the whole Jeff Jagodzinski-Greg Olson deal that went down last week wasn’t, “Why didn’t you do a better job vetting Jagodzinski?” That’s easy. They just didn’t. At the time Dominik and Morris were first-time hires that were doing some first-time hiring. They made a mistake in going for style over substance in the interview. I made the same mistake in getting caught up in the style in this process too, and I also didn’t do a very good job as a reporter following some leads I was given back in April and May about the questions surrounding Jagodzinski’s competency and his work ethic. The big question is “Why wasn’t Olson given the chance to interview for the offensive coordinator job back in January?” The answer is because he was already under contract with the Bucs and the team was feeling a bit greedy because they could have their cake and eat it too by having what the Bucs feel is the league’s best quarterbacks coach along with a guy like Jagodzinski, who had head coaching experience. One of the things Dominik wanted to do to help a rookie head coach like Morris was surround him with former head coaches like Pete Mangurian, Steve Logan, Jim Bates and Jagodzinski to provide leadership and enough sounding boards to help Morris throughout the season. There was also the belief that promoting Olson, who has perhaps been unfairly labeled as a “West Coast offense guy,” would be seen as carrying on Jon Gruden’s offense, which produced too many field goals and not enough touchdowns for the franchise’s liking in 2008. It’s the same rationale Dominik witnessed in 2002 when Rich McKay was told by the Glazers to go get a big-name, offensive-minded head coach to replace Tony Dungy and McKay offered up defensive-minded Marvin Lewis, who might have been viewed as a Dungy clone by fans and the media. McKay was essentially knee-capped by the Glazers after that decision and they carried on the head coaching search without him, landing Gruden in a trade with Oakland owner Al Davis. McKay’s relationship with the Glazers was never the same. Olson always had the respect of Dominik and Morris, and that’s why he ultimately got the job last week. However, he might have had it back in January if perception hadn’t gotten in the way.
• Bucs fans were exasperated over the fact that the team waited several hours after the 4:00 p.m. deadline to announce its roster cutdowns. Why? It seems like general manager Mark Dominik has learned something from his predecessor, Bruce Allen. Allen was notorious for holding off the roster cutdown announcement so that the Bucs could see what other teams’ cuts consisted of before showing his hand. Dominik has carried on the crafty tradition and that may have helped the Bucs land defensive end Maurice Evans and cornerback William Middleton, in addition to keeping some of its own players out of other teams’ hands so they could be re-signed to Tampa Bay’s practice squad.
• Don’t read too much into Cadillac Williams becoming the team’s starting running back for opening day against Dallas. Williams will get the ceremonial gesture of running out of the tunnel, but expect Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham to get their fair share of carries, too. I would be surprised if Williams – or any Bucs back – has more than 20 carries against Dallas. Yet collectively, Tampa Bay’s running backs may have 40 carries between them if they are victorious. I still believe at the end of the year that Ward will wind up leading the Bucs in rushing yards.
• It’s amazing to think that the number of followers Pewter Report has on Twitter has grown to over 1,100 in just a few months. At the start of the summer we were barely at 400. If you haven’t signed up for our Twitter page, what are you waiting for? Did you know that you can set your cell phone or mobile device up to receive FREE Twitter updates from us and breaking news alerts from Pewter Report’s Twitter page via text messages (standard text rates may apply depending on your cell phone plan)? Click here for details. All you need to do is set up a Twitter account, which is easy, fast and FREE, and then sign up to follow Pewter Report on Twitter by clicking here. In addition to breaking news alerts, you will also know when a story has been posted on PewterReport.com so you can quickly check it out.
• Why did the Buccaneers keep newly acquired center Jonathan Compas over Rob Bruggeman, who had been signed as an undrafted free agent back in April and played well throughout training camp and the preseason? Bruggeman was listed at 6-foot-4, 293 pounds and there were some issues with his strength, size and ability to anchor against the run. Compas, who is 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, is considered to be a stronger player and he showed well in the fourth quarter of the Bucs vs. Texans game on Friday night. On his first snap, he had a pancake block in the running game and he proved to be more stout in pass protection. The Bucs felt that Bruggeman needed a year in the weight room and didn’t have a lot of experience considering he only started his senior year at Iowa. Compas plays a little high and probably needs to bend his knees better, but is considered to have more athletic upside, which is why he was kept instead of Bruggeman.
• The Bucs are still reeling over the loss of rookie left tackle Xavier Fulton, who is out for the year with a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) that he suffered in Friday night’s preseason finale against Houston. Ironically, left guard Jeremy Zuttah started at left tackle to prepare him for emergency duty in case an injury strikes starter Donald Penn. With Fulton out, Zuttah is the backup left tackle, a position he hasn’t played since his freshman season at Rutgers. “Was it like old times playing left tackle? It’s been like real old times – like since my freshman year!” Zuttah said after Friday’s game. “Whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do. It felt a little awkward. It will come back to me with more and more snaps. The most important thing is helping the team. I have the versatility to play guard, center and tackle.” If Penn goes down, Zuttah will move to left tackle and newly acquired veteran guard Marcus Johnson will step in at left guard for Tampa Bay during the regular season.
• Thank you for supporting Pewter Report’s efforts this summer with your subscriptions, renewals and referrals. Because we have had a record number of sign-ups this year due to our “$10 Recession-Buster Special”, we have extended it through the end of December. Let’s face it. The recession that is gripping our country hasn’t let go yet, and that’s the biggest reason we’re keeping Pewter Report affordable. Now is the time to encourage your friends, family members and co-workers to take advantage of 75% savings and subscribe. Have them call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) or subscribe online by clicking here. Thanks again for supporting Pewter Report.
• I would also be remiss in mentioning that PewterReport.com’s web traffic is booming right now. With over 310,000 visits and almost 1.7 million page views over the last month alone, PewterReport.com is a great, high-traffic place to advertise the business you work for or own. If your business is looking for a male demographic primarily between the ages of 24-60 with discretionary income, contact me at [email protected] and I would be happy to design an affordable package that best suits your company’s marketing needs.
FAB 5 EXTRA: Because it’s been so long since my last SR’s Fab 5 column, I thought I would bestow upon you an extra bit of insight and analysis to kick off the 2009 NFL season.
Here are a few words of wisdom for Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, who I believe is a regular reader of SR’s Fab 5. Morris left Kansas State for three reasons after just one year as defensive coordinator at my alma mater in the 2006 season.
The first was his love for the NFL and the opportunity to come back as the defensive backs coach under his mentor, Monte Kiffin.
The second was because former general manager Bruce Allen made him one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the NFL by driving a Brinks truck to Manhattan, Kans. and letting Morris drive it home. Not literally, but Morris’ nickname around One Buc Place was “Brinks” upon his return.
The third reason was because K-State’s head coach Ron Prince was a bit of a lunatic. Prince, who was fired in 2008 midway through his third season as K-State’s head coach, worked with Morris at Cornell and the two were friends. But once Prince got his first head coaching gig, ego and paranoia set in to such a bad degree that he ran off several players and assistant coaches each year. Morris was one of them, being able to stomach Prince for only one season, which happened to be the Wildcats’ only bowl season.
Morris, like Prince, was smitten with the physical tools and steely demeanor that true freshman quarterback Josh Freeman possessed in 2006. Freeman was Prince’s trophy recruit and with each passing year, Freeman became a bigger, shinier trophy for the head coach, whose program began to revolve around the star quarterback. That was unhealthy for the Wildcats, who produced back-to-back five-win seasons from 2007-08.
Prince’s coddling of Freeman produced a double standard that created factions within the team, primarily offense versus defense. K-State’s theme in 2007, which was Freeman’s sophomore year, was “The Power of One” and featured a huge number one jersey, which was Freeman’s number, on the front of the football media guide. Prince denied that the theme was about Freeman, but the way he gushed over his quarterback, it had to have had at least a double meaning pertaining to Freeman.
It got so bad that when Freeman threw interceptions or had bad games that Prince made excuses for him in the press conferences and took responsibilities for Freeman’s INTs. That was laughable and damaged Prince’s credibility with his players, coaches, the media and the K-State fan base. I warn Morris that he is beginning to do the same thing.
Morris took responsibility for the pick-six interception that Freeman threw in his first preseason game at Tennessee and then he said this during Sunday’s press conference: “When you talk about Freeman, you are talking about the quarterback position. Everything we do has a thought process with Freeman. Everything we do has to. I’m scared to say this because I don’t want to have another picture on YouTube, but we are married to him. Everything we do around that position, around this team, around this organization, the Tampa Bay area – when we clean the street on MacDill Ave. – it’s going to be around Freeman. That’s just what it’s got to be.”
That can be a dangerous mindset for a young head coach like Morris. I understand his line of thinking now that the Bucs have invested $36 million over five years and a number-one pick in Freeman, but he cannot start going down the same path that Prince did for the sake of the other 52 players on the roster.
For Freeman’s sake, he didn’t bathe in the extra attention and fawning from Prince and scoffed to the media every time he was made aware of Prince making excuses for his poor play or interceptions. Freeman was an innocent bystander in all of the mania that Prince produced over him at K-State and never became self-absorbed the way some would with so much attention. Freeman also brushed off Morris’ apologetic attitude towards the pick-six in Tennessee and has a level head. He also made sure not to ask for the number one jersey when he was drafted by Tampa Bay.
In some innocent way, Freeman likely made Prince maniacal. His physical attributes and NFL-ready size certainly cast a spell on Prince. Early indications are that Morris may be sliding down the same destructive path regarding Freeman. Making him the backup quarterback without him earning the position, taking blame for Freeman’s interception at Tennessee and saying what he said about Freeman on Sunday is the evidence.
Morris needs to break the spell and start treating Freeman like jersey number 5 – not number 1 – or risk going down the same path Prince went down.