On Thursday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman threw extensively for the first time in a week and a half. It was a big step in his attempt to return from a right shoulder injury suffered in Tennessee on November 27, the success of which required a two-part evaluation: How did he look in practice and how would his shoulder feel when he woke up the next day?
As for Thursday, Head Coach Raheem Morris said Freeman felt good and was "productive" in his return to practice. So how about part two – did the third-year quarterback still feel fine when he returned to team headquarters on Friday?
Freeman answered that question without even saying a word.
"I didn't ask," said Morris. "I know he showed up in practice and he had his helmet on, and he was throwing it."
Indeed, Freeman practiced for the second straight day on Friday and once again threw extensively, taking a significant amount of first-team snaps. He is still questionable for Sunday's game – the official Friday injury report included game-status designations, and that was Freeman's – but Morris feels as if the arrow is pointing up on Freeman's recovery.
"Proceed with caution," said the coach. "That's our little motto in the background – 'Proceed with caution' – but he's done a great job. He went out there and practiced today and looked good.
"He threw the ball a lot more. Obviously he did a lot more this week than he did last week. I'm not looking for him to throw at the stadium [because] I saw him throw today and do some different things. We'll get a chance to see him Saturday. He's healing up a little bit."
Freeman had started 36 consecutive games since taking over midway through his 2009 rookie season before his current ailment kept him out of last Sunday's contest against the Carolina Panthers. Freeman suffered the injury on the Bucs' final play in Tennessee, as he was tackled awkwardly on his throwing shoulder, and he began last week with a significant amount of pain and a limited range of motion. An MRI showed no serious injury, however, and he has steadily regained improved over the last 10 days. Whether he has improved enough to return to the lineup in Jacksonville or it becomes a second straight start for Josh Johnson, however, will not be certain until game day.
However, the Bucs do already know that they'll face the Jaguars without starting left cornerback Aqib Talib, who did not practice this week due to the hamstring injury he sustained early in the Panthers game. Talib did appear to show some improvement on Friday, but not enough to avoid being ruled "out" for Sunday's game on the injury report.
"Talib did not practice today," said Morris. "But he definitely felt better. He moved around a lot better out there today – I'm not talking about running but just his movement on the field and those things. Hopefully we get him back."
Reserve safety Larry Asante is unlikely to play, as well, due to his own hamstring strain, which occurred on the practice field on Wednesday. That means rookie safety Ahmad Black, just promoted from the practice squad on Friday, is not only on the 53-man roster but will be among the 46 active players on Sunday in Jacksonville. As a University of Florida product, he'll be making his NFL regular-season debut not far from the site of his college glory days.
Black moved up into the spot opened by the placement of veteran defensive end Tim Crowder on injured reserve, but Morris said the promotion was not simply a matter of filling an opening. As a member of the practice squad, Black has impressed the coaching staff with his midweek work for some time now, and Morris felt he deserved a shot to play. Giving him a spot on the active roster protects the Bucs from losing him to another interested team before the end of the season and also allows the young player a chance to prove what he can do in live game action.
"Ahmad was granted a helmet not because anybody felt sorry for him," said Morris. "He's worked his way into this role. I actually stood up in front of the team and told those guys that I was proud of him and for what reasons. He did it the right way. A lot of it is based on wanting to see what these guys have got and what they can do. A lot of it is based on earning your way, earning your stripes a little bit, getting an opportunity to do something."
As for Crowder, it was a concussion suffered against the Panthers that sent him to I.R., but Morris emphasized on Friday that Crowder does not have a history of such injuries. With only four games left and an uncertain prognosis as to when Crowder could return, the Bucs simply felt as if it was better to be cautious with an injury of that nature.
"We're just doing the prudent thing with Timmy Crowder, putting him on I.R.," said Morris. "We'll make sure everything's alright."
The Jaguars placed two defensive ends on injured reserve this week: John Chick (knee) and Aaron Kampman (hamstring). In addition, defensive end Matt Roth has been ruled out for a third straight game due to a concussion. Overall, both teams submitted rather lengthy injury reports on Friday.
The Bucs' 10-man list includes four players who are considered questionable or worse: Talib, Asante, Freeman and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth is dealing with a knee ailment and is questionable, but he did practice fully on Friday after sitting out the first two days of the week. Rookie tight end Luke Stocker, who had been held out of practice on both Wednesday and Thursday, returned to full participation on Friday and is now considered probable to play.
Jacksonville's nine-man list includes three players who are questionable or worse: Roth, cornerback T.J. Heath (shoulder, out) and safety Dwight Lowery (shoulder, questionable). A number of offensive starters, including running back Maurice Jones-Drew (not injury related), fullback Greg Jones (not injury related), tight end Marcedes Lewis (ankle) and tackle Guy Whimper (thigh) have been limited on the practice field all week but are all considered probable to play.