QB Josh Freeman got a good start against fellow rookies last weekend and is now ready to mix it up with the veterans
When the last practice of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie mini-camp ended at 12:30 last Sunday, quarterback Josh Freeman hustled off the field and into the expansive weight room at the other end of One Buc Place. He had an appointment to go over some personal workout details with Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Kurt Shultz, then he came back onto the field for a quick camp-ending session with the gathered media.
With only a few minutes to get cleaned up, Freeman was on a shuttle to Tampa International Airport by 1:15. As he left team headquarters, he knew he wouldn't be throwing another pass to a Tampa Bay teammate for 16 more days. Freeman got a small taste of the intense work he will be doing with his new team during the three-day camp, but he would have to wait another fortnight before really digging in.
At least football is back. Freeman is itching to return, but those two weeks will fly by compared with the five-month process that followed his last game at Kansas State and preceded his arrival in Tampa. Buccaneers Head Coach compares the lead-up to the NFL Draft to preparing for the Olympics, as draft-eligible prospects focus specifically on improving their 40-yard-dash times and vertical leap numbers.
Doing well in those tests can help an athlete improve or solidify his draft position, which is important to the fiscal bottom line. But it's not exactly fun.
"You're worried about the 40; you don't have to worry about the 40 anymore," said Morris. "Now it's time to talk about accuracy and throwing the ball with timing and precision, being where you're supposed to be and getting the ball to the people you're supposed to get it to. He's starting to go through all those things. He's getting back into the groove of football and he's pretty excited about that. All these guys are. This is the fun part of football. Nobody likes that testing part."
Once again, Freeman will be tested on what he does in this current downtime. He will have his nose in the Bucs' offensive playbook in the hopes of practicing with confidence and poise when the organized team activity days (OTAs) start back up and the veterans produce a more intense and challenging atmosphere. Morris hasn't shared the specific plan for how the Buccaneers will share reps between their five quarterbacks (soon to be four, according to the coach) but it will probably be relatively balanced given that all of the passers are going to be given a real shot at the starting job. Before long, Freeman will be in a huddle with such veterans as Earnest Graham and Antonio Bryant, and he'll be taking the snap from veteran Jeff Faine.
"I'm one practice at a time, but he'll get a fair share," said Morris. "Obviously you've got to give those three guys that have been here working their butts off an opportunity. He'll get his opportunity when it comes."
The three-day rookie camp might have offered just a morsel of football to a player who's been off the field for five months, but it did serve to give both Freeman and the Buccaneers a dose of confidence in their first-round pick. Freeman wasn't perfect over those three days – both he and Morris agree that he hit a bit of a lull on Day Two – but he was in control, and he had some impressive moments.
"Big Five started off good," said Morris of his new passer, who has chosen jersey #5. "His arm was nice and live and he was throwing it great. The second day, he came back and was a little bit tired. [Friday] he came back with a little bit of a live arm. The progression of the learning happened for him pretty good and today he went back a little bit and started pressing. You'll see all those things from a quarterback but, shoot man, we're very excited. To see some of the throws he's thrown this weekend, you can't help but like Josh."
Freeman's assessment: "I think I did well. Really, this camp was all about getting a basic grasp of this offense, as far as verbiage, stepping into the huddle and saying the play with confidence, understanding the concepts and a lot of protection stuff we really didn't get into. It was definitely a good start.
"The first day I was just out there trying to feel out the offense. The second day I might have over-thought things. I wasn't getting everything into my throws; maybe I was thinking too much. Then the third day, I felt pretty comfortable with the stuff they were giving me. I'm ready to go again."
There's just one small problem for Freeman, although it's also reason for him to be even more amped for his return. He may be "ready to go," but so are about 50 veteran teammates who have been around the bend before and know just how to welcome a rookie to the NFL.
"All these vets get really excited when the rookies come in and they get a little fresh meat," said Morris with a laugh. "Right now these rookies are more hyped up than anybody they can imagine, so they want to see what they've got."