Josh Freeman, Quarterback
A FEW DAYS after the Super Bowl, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik looked out his office window and saw his quarterback involved in a throwing workout on the practice field with one of the team's young receivers. Dominik was so excited about Freeman's showing up to work out at 8 a.m. a month before the off-season program began that he talked to team cochairman Joel Glazer. "He said, 'Isn't that what quarterbacks are supposed to do?'" recalls Dominik. "I said they are, but not many of them do."
A bright-eyed leader at 22, Freeman has the off-the-field stuff to be a team's long-term quarterback. Now he must show he's accurate enough, smart enough and tough enough to become a quarterback the Bucs can win with. In three years at Kansas State he was a 59% passer with a plus-10 touchdown-to-interception differential. Good, not great. As a rookie last year Freeman was 30th among NFL starters in passer rating (ahead of only Jake Delhomme and JaMarcus Russell) and completed 54.5% of his throws. "I recruited him out of high school," says coach Raheem Morris, the Wildcats' defensive coordinator for a season. "His character, his will to be great, his leadership, all showed right away, and it's showing here."
Right. But can he play? At 6'6", 248 pounds, Freeman is an imposing presence, but he's working with two rookie receivers (Arrelious Benn, Mike Williams) and a second-year guy (Sammie Stroughter), and he'll have less preseason work after breaking the tip of his throwing thumb on Aug. 21 against Kansas City. (Morris expects Freeman to be ready for the season opener.) "With new receivers, there's going to be growing pains," Freeman said in camp, before the injury. "We've got a lot of timing routes, so that's tough. But this is what I signed up for. I want the ball in my hands. I can do this." All that's riding on Freeman is the Bucs' future.