Rookie QB Josh Freeman will put on Bucs gear for the first time this weekend
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have scouted Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman for months and they like how he throws the ball. They like how far he can throw it, when he chooses to throw and how accurately he can throw it.
And now they're going to get a kick out of who he's throwing it to.
Freeman is now a Buccaneer, having been selected with the 17th overall pick of the NFL Draft on Saturday. On Friday, Freeman will suit up in Bucs' practice gear for the first time and take the field to start the team's three-day rookie mini-camp. For the first time, his passes will be to Buccaneer receivers.
That's one reason this weekend's camp is a thrilling one for Buccaneers management.
"Go out there watch Josh Freeman throw the ball?" said General Manager Mark Dominik. "Yes, I'm excited to see that, see how it goes. That's something I'm looking forward to."
The Buccaneers will get their first look of six 2009 draftees and a handful of post-draft rookie signings, on their own field and in their own systems, for the first time on Friday. What shape will the newcomers be in? How quickly will they grasp the offensive and defensive concepts? How well will they jell together as teammates? These are some of the questions that will get their first rudimentary answers this weekend.
In addition, the Bucs will be taking a very close look at several dozen other young men who will be in town on tryout contracts. The camp is for rookies and first-year players only, so the team would have a hard time filling out starting units on both sides of the ball without bringing in some additional players. That gives a group of young hopefuls an opportunity to make an impression that they might otherwise have not had.
"It's going to be exciting for everybody," said Dominik. "We'll have some invitees there as well, guys that are looking to get a contract. It's going to be exciting to which one of those kinds of guys steps up. Last year we invited Clifton Smith to this camp and he stepped up and got a great opportunity and took advantage of it all the way through to the Pro Bowl."
After the weekend camp, rookies must leave town and can't return to Buccaneer headquarters until their colleges' respective school years are over. For most players, that means a return date of May 16, and that's when Tampa Bay veterans and rookies can finally work together on the field in a series of organized team activity days (OTAs).
Thus, this weekend's camp is really the first step for the Buccaneers and their now almost-complete roster as they head down an excitingly uncharted path towards the 2009 season and beyond. The franchise has forged a new direction under Dominik and first-year Head Coach Raheem Morris, and that is going to involve a lot of new players getting first-time opportunities.
For instance, a battle will emerge to determine who replaces Kevin Carter as the Bucs' starting left defensive end.
"Out of respect to Kevin Carter, he's a fine football player," said Dominik. "But this gives the opportunity for Kyle Moore and Jimmy Wilkerson to step into a role, an opportunity for them to play not only for 2009 but for the future, and who's going to be our left end in 2010 and 2011? This opportunity is now in front of them and we're looking forward to them taking advantage of it. I think that will happen, hopefully, at linebacker, cornerback, defensive line; we're looking for it on offense, too."
The Buccaneers' rookies will arrive in Tampa on Thursday and get their first look at One Buccaneer Place (though first-rounder Josh Freeman was at team headquarters on Monday and some came by for visits prior to the draft). They will get physicals, meet the Bucs' football staff and sit down for a meeting with Morris.
Practices begin the next day. On Friday and Saturday the rookies will have a walk-through in the morning and a full-scale, two-hour session in the afternoon. The camp will conclude with a morning practice on Sunday.