On Monday morning, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held their first full-team practice of 2013, opening up a run of 10 "organized team activity days" (OTAs) that will stretch over the next three weeks. As has been the case since midway through the 2009 season, Josh Freeman was first in line to take the snaps at quarterback.
Nevertheless, this question, mere minutes after that first real practice of 2013 came to a close: "Is this still your team?"
Freeman's answer, without hesitation or any added exposition: "No question."
Obviously, there is a reason that Freeman is being asked that question mere months after starting all 16 games in 2012 and setting team records with 4,065 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. It is a series of reasons, really, beginning with Head Coach Greg Schiano's post-2012 comment that the quarterback position would be evaluated like every other position. That idea took on more significance than Schiano intended and led to the coach reiterating several weeks later that Freeman was the team's starter for 2013.
The drafting of North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round in April rekindled the topic, however, and shined a national spotlight on any discussion Schiano or General Manager Mark Dominik had regarding their quarterbacks. Why does Dominik expect Glennon to get a larger share of preseason reps than usual? What does it mean when Schiano says "he's not against" Glennon competing for the starting job? And, with all that noise, how long is it before Freeman starts looking over his shoulder?
That's not a problem, says Schiano, because his fifth-year starter isn't troubled by the situation. And furthermore, when it comes to that first question posed at the end of Monday's practice, Freeman's answer was correct.
"I don't think it bothers Josh," said Schiano. "Josh is a confident guy, he knows this is his team. I mean I don't think it bothers him one bit. I think he's ready to go have a great year and that's what we're working for."
Freeman never expected the Buccaneers to keep the quarterback depth chart uncluttered with competition, nor would he want it that way. While he fully intends to be the man that leads the Buccaneers back to the playoffs, Freeman wants the full 53-man roster to be as strong as possible. He says there are no reasons he can think of that would pull him out of the starting lineup, but he's glad there's more talent in the quarterback room if that happens.
"That's the way it works on any team, honestly," said Freeman. "You want to have the best, most talented team you can possibly have. They feel like, and it's obviously true, that Mike is a very talented player. You want the best possible option behind you. I feel like Dan [Orlovsky] is obviously a great player. They obviously wanted to grab a younger guy and Mike's a perfect fit. You look at it – if it's down the road and we're making a run and something happens to me, you want a guy who can come in and keep it going, win some games while you're sitting out.
"It will be fine. We're both competitors. We're both going to work as hard as we can, trying to get more wins on the Buccaneers' side."
Schiano said the (mostly national if not necessarily local) perception that he isn't sold on Freeman as the Bucs' starter is "inaccurate."
"The truth is that I believe in competition, but also that Josh Freeman is our starting quarterback," said the coach. "Josh knows how I feel. And I know that Mike Glennon does, too. I told him the day I drafted him. No, I don't sweat it.
"We have our starting quarterback and it's Josh Freeman. And I'm not looking to find a new one. But I do like to have quality depth at every position. And when you get that, just naturally, these are the most competitive guys on the planet. And it raises everybody's level."
After their first practice together, Freeman can see that Glennon definitely brings value to the depth chart, and to their ability to improve each other's games.
"I think Mike's a great player," said his older teammate. "The guy's got a great arm, he's tall, he's got good feet for a guy his height. He's very athletic and coordinated. And he's a cool guy to be around, in the meeting room and around the building. We're going to learn together and I'm going to try to help him out as much as I can. I just had my first year in the offense last year and there are certain ways to study and learn different things. A lot of it is the terminology. I'm excited about Mike. I'm glad to have him aboard and I'm ready to get this rolling."