The Tampa Bay Bucs Roll the Dice with New Quarterback

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The Tampa Bay Bucs Roll the Dice with New Quarterback
(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Jeff Berlinicke

TAMPA—No one denies that Josh Freeman has all the tools.

At 6'6" and 248 pounds, the Bucs' first-round draft choice has everything a team could want from a quarterback: size, speed, strength, and a good head on his shoulders. He impressed the Bucs so much that they traded up in the first round to nab him just before the Denver Broncos, who had the 16th pick—one before the Bucs.

Freeman has the tools. So did Tim Couch, Cade McNown, Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf, Alex Smith, and a host of other former NFL quarterbacks who were taken in the first round and turned out to be busts. The Bucs selected Freeman with hopes that he would watch Luke McCown play for a year, maybe two, then lead the franchise for the next decade.

The Bucs have rolled the dice in the past, but this might be their riskiest pick since taking Bo Jackson, who never even suited up for the Bucs.  Freeman looks great in the locker room—on the field might be a different story.

Rookie Coach Raheem Morris said that Freeman would have been his first pick even if the Bucs held the No. 1 overall pick.

”We wanted him all along,’’ Morris said the day after taking Freeman with the team’s first pick. “He has the tools and we think he will be a great quarterback for a long time to come.’’

If the Bucs fast track Freeman, he’ll only have to leapfrog over Luke McCown or Byron Leftwich. McCown is No. 1 on the depth chart, but Leftwich said he plans to give McCown a run for the starting job. McCown has never been a starting quarterback on a permanent basis, and Leftwich couldn’t get the job done after being the No. 7 pick overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Neither is a long-term option, but still, Freeman can be considered a stretch.

Freeman started for three years at Kansas State in the, suddenly, pass-happy Big 12. He has the size and athleticism and can make every throw. He played basketball in high school, so his athleticism isn’t a question. He doesn’t go down easily, which already makes him an improvement over Brian Griese and Jeff Garcia. He can run and is durable.

However, he gained a reputation at Kansas State for being easily rattled and for making the long throws and not the short passes that are key to the Bucs playbook. He also was never a consistent winner for the Wildcats.

Most NFL scouts at the combine remarked that Freeman is a project, but the Bucs might not be able to afford to invest two or three years into a project. Mathis coached at Kansas State when Freeman was a freshman and is convinced that Freeman is the future. Kansas State was never a big winner while Freeman was in charge, so he comes to Tampa with some baggage.

“All I want to do is the best I can for this team that believed in me,’’ Freeman said during his introduction to Tampa. “All I can do is my best.’’

Morris said he plans to go with McCown and/or Leftwich this year, while Freeman carries a clipboard, meaning that the Bucs' first-round pick won’t make any kind of impact whatsoever in 2009. That is, unless the Bucs stumble out of the gate and are playing out the string. Then, Morris said, Freeman might get some snaps.

Best case scenario: Freeman continues to mature, stays patient wearing a baseball cap, and learns the offense of new coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski.

Worse case: Bucs fans don’t want to think about it. They’ve seen it before.

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