Buccaneers Use Loss To Usher In Change

Raheem Morris (AP Photo)

After yet another embarrassing loss, the Buccaneers are looking to change things up. This time, Josh Johnson is moving back a spot after a horrid outing against the Patriots last week.

It's not just Josh Freeman's turn. It's his team.

The Bucs finally made the move to Freeman, naming their first-round pick the starting quarterback for the rest of the season.

"Josh Freeman will take over as starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," coach Raheem Morris said following practice Wednesday. "No discredit to what Josh Johnson did for this football team. He's gone out there and gave us his best efforts.

"But the preparation, the timing, how we want to acclimate our young man into our system, into our organization, into our town, into our community, we think it's best coming off the bye. It's the most time to prepare. It's time to see Josh Freeman."

Freeman, who played two series in his first NFL regular-season game Sunday against the Patriots in London, said he was excited to finally get his chance. He got all the first-team reps during the team's practice Wednesday and will get all of them Thursday.

"Obviously, it's something that's very exciting to me and it's something I've been working towards my entire career and it's not something I'm taking lightly," Freeman said. "I come out with a different swagger I guess because I'm the guy taking the majority of the snaps and I'm the guy who has to radiate that type of swagger so my teammates can catch onto it."

Unlike Byron Leftwich and Johnson, who had the eject button pushed by Morris after combining for an 0-7 record, the plan is for Freeman to start the rest of the season -- and beyond -- regardless of the won/loss record.

"This is a different deal," Morris said. "This is Freeman."

Freeman completed 2-of-4 passes for 16 yards and was sacked twice in the fourth quarter against the Patriots on Sunday. But the Bucs have not improved under second-year quarterback Josh Johnson, who lost all four starts while throwing eight interceptions. He owns a 50.4 passer rating.

Morris said Johnson will serve as the Bucs' No. 2 quarterback.

The Bucs had targeted the Packers game as the time to launch Freeman's career. He's only 21 and history told Morris that college juniors drafted in the first round struggle if they are forced to start early in the NFL.

They wanted Freeman to take his time learning the terminology, how to watch film, understand the implementation of the game plan and how to correct mistakes. It also was important that Freeman have the best supporting cast around him, so the return of center Jeff Faine to the lineup contributed to the decision.

Morris says Freeman has improved dramatically since the preseason, when he completed 44.9 percent of his passes for 238 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He also rushed for 75 yards and one TD on eight carries.

"Josh came out there (Sunday) and was able to control the offense and do what he needed to do," Morris said. "He completed two balls, one a nice slant route to (Brian Clark), another a crossing route to Kellen (Winslow). He knew exactly where to go with the football. He didn't get the protection on one or two of the plays, but he went out there, executed the run and got us a first down.

"The decision was made probably with his preparation before that. The six o'clock wake-ups, the coming into the office, being part of the game plan, being No. 2 -- all that stuff was part of the process. And now it's time we move in that direction as an organization."

Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson said that while he wished Freeman had gotten more reps in training camp, the rookie from Kansas State is ready. He plans to tailor his play calling to the 6-foot-6 Freeman, who has a strong arm and can drive the football like Leftwich, but enough mobility to make some plays with his feet like Johnson.

"When you put in your offensive system, you know who you have, so there are certain plays you rely on more with a different quarterback," Olson said. "With Josh Johnson and his ability to move, there were certain plays put in for him. With Byron (being) more of a pocket guy, we protected more up front and did some more of the max protection. Josh Freeman is a little bit in between, so you can kind of do the best of both worlds."

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