Josh Freeman's first start of 2010 was a very brief one, but that was his own doing.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second-year quarterback might have played close to a full quarter in the team's preseason opener in Miami last Saturday, but he needed only two series to accomplish everything his coaches wanted. Freeman completed all four of his passes, the last one a 13-yard TD pass to Sammie Stroughter, compiled a perfect 158.3 passer rating, moved around confidently in the pocket and left with a 7-0 lead.
Given the wet conditions at Sun Life Stadium and the hordes of young Buccaneers who needed playing time, those two Freeman series were enough for Head Coach Raheem Morris. The hook might not be quite as quick in Week Two of the preseason, even if Freeman has a hot hand again.
"Last week he really played an efficient game," said Morris of the Bucs' franchise-quarterback-to-be. "He led us down with two drives. One was stalled by a penalty and the other he got us a touchdown. He went four for four and had a bunch of good completions and a bunch of good decisions. He has to continue to grow as far as that goes. We'll get him out there and maybe let him play a few more snaps, let him stay out there a little bit longer and get a little more confidence. You want to come out of these games feeling good."
A slightly longer outing against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night, in the Buccaneers' preseason home opener, would be a useful transition to Week Three, when starters generally play more than half of the game. Freeman got things started off well in Miami, particularly when it came to his poise in and out of the pocket. On his scoring pass to Stroughter, for instance, Freeman pulled the only defender in the area away from his receiver by looking to a different target, then quickly came back to his original target.
"It was a lot of fun to see him go through those progressions, which he'll have to do again tonight," said Morris. "It will be no different for the rest of the season. For him to remain patient, that was a big learning experience for him. He had an experience last year in Carolina when he threw five picks down there in the red zone and he doesn't want to repeat that performance. So for him to go through his progressions and go to a guy outside the end zone and let the guy make a play for him was important for us."
The Bucs went to their offensive subs quickly in Miami, and the defensive reserves came in not long after. Tampa Bay controlled the action through most of the first half but ended up losing, 10-7, when Miami's second and third-stringers scored a touchdown against their Buccaneer counterparts. It was tempting to call the outing a victory of sorts for the Buccaneers, especially given the performance of Freeman and the starting offense, but Morris didn't see it that way.
"The older you get as a head coach, the more you learn that it's about the team, and how the whole team plays collectively," he said. "For us to do what we need to do and go where we want to go, we've got to play collectively as a team better.
"We came out last week and we were able to play fast and play hard. This week, we've got to improve on the thing we didn't do well last week, and that's play smart. Too many mistakes last week, too many things that hurt us internally that we can do better. That's what we're looking forward to doing this week."
The difficulty of preseason play, of course, is maintaining precision and consistency while shuffling up to 80 players in and out of the game. That will be a challenge again on Saturday night, as the Bucs follow a similar depth chart rotation as they used in the preseason opener. How long various starters play against the Chiefs is partially a matter of circumstance, however.
"As long as we've got Josh Freeman out there we'll have the starters out there, the offensive line to protect him and the receivers he can throw to and create some continuity with," said Morris. "As far as defense goes, sometimes I'll reward these guys and take a Barrett Ruud or a Tanard Jackson or a Ronde Barber a little earlier. But we're so young on defense and we'll let those guys play a little bit, get a couple more snaps. We've got a couple of positions people are fighting for and it's important to see those guys play."
There are no official inactives during the preseason, but the Buccaneers identified three players who would definitely not suit up on Saturday night: T Demar Dotson, RB Clifton Smith and WR Maurice Stovall. With Stovall out, Reggie Brown will get the start at wide receiver opposite Mike Williams.
The Chiefs will not play QB Brodie Croyle, G Darryl Harris or RB Kestahn Moore, but have reported no changes to their starting lineups.
The Buccaneers and Chiefs kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET. Buccaneers.com will post an update of the game at halftime and a detailed game story after the final whistle.