The development of quarterback Josh Freeman will be the biggest off-season priority, coach Raheem Morris said Monday.
"As far as priorities for me, No. 5 (Josh Freeman)," Morris said during his weekly news conference at One Buc Place. "He is the No. 1 priority. It starts with him. Then after that the draft and building around him, our team and what we are going to be. You have to say that No. 5 is the biggest priority, making sure everything works around him because when it works around him, we were able to be successful at the end of the season there."
Freeman, the Bucs' top pick (17th overall) in the 2009 draft, set club rookie records for passing yards (1,857) and touchdown passes (10) after taking over as the starting quarterback eight games into the season. His completion percentage of 54.6 was best among rookie quarterbacks.
He showed flashes of brilliance, but his 3-6 record, 18 interceptions and 59.9 rating show that he has plenty of work to do. Freeman will get to do that work with Morris, who found out early Tuesday that he would be back for a second year as head coach. The Glazer family’s one-sentence statement was released confirming Morris’ continued employment with the Bucs was released through the team’s PR department.
"This year with Josh the things you have to say positive about him is that he has the best completion percentage amongst rookies this year," Morris said. "That's a positive for him and he knows that he can get better, we know he can get better and we look forward to him getting better. We are fired up about that. You will be judged on your progress. Next year is definitely his time to show progress. It is definitely all of our time to show progress."
Asked whether it was a mistake to limit Freeman in camp, when Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown battled for the starting spot, Morris said no.
"That is one of those things that you talk about when you go back and want to second guess yourself," Morris said. "I had hoped that Freeman would get a chance to get in there and soak it all up and learn, go through the Phillip Rivers process. That was kind of the initial thoughts. That's what we wanted to do.
"You have to give the kid credit there because he forced his will on us. We didn't just wake up all of the sudden and say, let's put Freeman in. He came to practice, worked really hard at it. When he was at practice he kept making you look over there and say, 'Wow. Let's put him in.' He forced his will on us a little bit.
"You have to give credit to him. You don't look back and say, 'What a mistake.' Nothing like that. Maybe he was ready for some things that we weren't ready to do yet. He went out there and showed us. It is a learning curve. It is a process."
Freeman said he benefited greatly from starting nine games as a rookie.
"I definitely learned a lot," Freeman said. "Obviously, I had my ups and my downs, but at the end of the day I got a lot of valuable experience. I couldn't imagine sitting out this entire season and going into the first game next year not having any game experience. I definitely learned a lot about patience, about playing and letting the game come to you."