Unproven Josh Freeman May Be in Tampa Bay Bucs' Starting QB Hunt

Jeff BerlinickeContributor IJune 19, 2009

TAMPA, FL - MAY 01:  Quarterback Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throws a pass during the Buccaneers Rookie Minicamp at One Buccaneer Place on May 1, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

New Bucs coach Raheem Morris is about to make the decision that will immediately define his NFL coaching future.

He probably didn’t realize that when he took the Bucs' head coaching job that he’d be forced to choose between two quarterbacks with nominal NFL experience and a rookie who was never truly a winner at the college level but has Bucs executives comparing him to Johnny Unitas.

The rookie is Josh Freeman out of Kansas State, not necessarily known as a starting point to the NFL Pro Bowl. The best quarterback to ever come out of Kansas State was the immortal Lynn Dickey who started for some miserable Green Bay Packers teams in the 1970s.

No one doubts Freeman’s arm or size. He’s linebacker-big and can throw the ball a mile. But again, he was never a big winner in college and mostly put big numbers up against Kansas State’s usual schedule of non-conference patsies.

Freeman is an intelligent quarterback, one who should be able to pick up the Bucs' new offense as it develops, and if he’s not the starting quarterback in two years, the 2009 draft will go down along with many others in Bucs infamy.

A lot of pundits thought he was a reach, as the Bucs traded up two spots to get him in the No. 17 slot in the first round. Bucs brass, through, said he was their first quarterback on the draft board all along, ahead of even Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez.

There’s a lot to like. He can run, throw and, most importantly, think on the run. He started all of his four years at Kansas State, but starting him as a rookie could be dangerous for the Bucs.

The thinking in the NFL has changed. It used to be that a rookie sat for two years, held a clipboard and wore a baseball cap, then finally got his chance.

After Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan had decent years as rookie starters in 2008, it’s a whole new ball game. Fans want rookies to start now, but Atlanta and Baltimore had different situations.

Baltimore lives and dies on defense. Flacco was expected to keep it safe and keep the ball on the ground. Same with Ryan. Neither were expected to put points on the board, only to keep the offense on the field. It worked because their offenses were equipped to score in multiple ways.

Freeman’s situation is different. His running attack of Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham is questionable, so he will have to put the ball in the air. He has possession receivers in Michael Clayton and Kellen Winslow, so he can throw underneath until he gets the experience. But starting him as a rookie will bring a lot of questions to Morris, who has said he knows that this is a decision that could define the season.

And that decision comes after the Bucs purged fan favorites Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway, Cato June and quarterback Jeff Garcia soon after Morris’s hiring.

If Freeman gets the job he might not be any less impressive than veterans Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich who are still fighting for the top job, but if Freeman is the future, Morris has to decide if he wants to throw Freeman into the fire immediately.

Bucs fans who might have a hard time filling Raymond James Stadium this season are clamoring for Freeman, but they also need to realize that drafting a quarterback in the first round is akin to taking two first round picks to years later. He’s simply not supposed to play.

Morris has a big decision to make and his NFL future may depend on it.

Last Second Shot: Wasn't it just two years ago that the Bucs were raving about fifth-round pick named Josh Johnson—who hasn’t played since joining the team? What happens to him in this offense? It’s doubtful the Bucs will keep four quarterbacks, even though they have in the past.

Johnson looked good during limited playing time in the pre-season and deserves better. The quicker the Bucs cut him the quicker he’ll be able to hook up with another team.