Bucs' newest QB Freeman unfazed by first-round expectations

TAMPA, Fla. -- Josh Freeman isn't offering any bold predictions, just a promise to do everything possible to be the player the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are counting on to lead them back among the NFL's elite.

The Bucs envision him developing into a franchise quarterback, but aren't necessarily expecting him to contribute right away.

"I have no idea how it's going to work out. All I know is I'm going to do everything within my power to make the Buccaneers a better football team," the former Kansas State star said Monday.

"Whether that's playing this year, not playing this year, playing a couple of years down the road being the man. Whatever it takes, whatever helps this team win, I'm ready to do."

Freeman was the 17th selection in the draft, the first quarterback taken by the Bucs in the first round since Trent Dilfer in 1994.

The pick was not a hit with Bucs fans, who know little about Freeman because they rarely had an opportunity to watch his college games on television. Tampa Bay has won with defense for so long that some fans can't fathom linking their hopes to a young, strong-armed passer.

"I've been part of this organization for 14 years, and I got to start with it when (Derrick) Brooks and (Warren) Sapp stepped in the door. So I understand this town and how important defense is to it," said Mark Dominik, who took over as general manager in January and has made significant changes on both sides of the ball.

"The year before I got here is the last time we took a quarterback in the first round. so I knew that there was going to be some reservations about that considering what this town is so used to. But I'm excited about what we did in terms of the direction and long-term plan for this franchise."

Freeman, one of three quarterbacks selected in the first round, is not fazed by the reaction. He feels he's every bit as good, if not better, than Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, who were the first and fifth picks.

Although he didn't win as many games at Kansas State as Stafford with Georgia and Sanchez with Southern California, Freeman believes he has the strongest arm of the three and that his size (6-foot-6, 248 pounds) and strength are assets, too.

"You have to take it in stride," he said of criticism of the pick.

"I'm from a smaller school that maybe didn't have the national spotlight all time, didn't win as many games as the other guys. I expect a little bit of this. But I hear they're great fans here. People respond to winning, so I think if I go out and play well, they'll have no complaints then."

The Bucs say they won't rush Freeman, who joins Byron Leftwich, Brian Griese, Luke McCown and Josh Johnson on the roster. First-year coach Raheem Morris expects to take four of them to training camp.

Freeman is eager to begin learning the offense, adding that he doesn't have any preconceived notion about whether he would be better off if the Bucs to play him right away or bring him along slowly.

"I think both situations have pros and cons," said Freeman, who's known Morris since the Bucs coach was defensive coordinator at Kansas State for one season in 2006 -- the quarterback's freshman year.

"It's more than just knowing the playbook," Freeman said. "It's a matter of understanding the concepts and where exactly to go with the ball. ... When the coaches feel like I'm ready, and that I'm the best option to go out on the field, then that's when I expect to do it. I don't expect to go out when there is a better option. And, I do expect to be the best option. It's just a matter of time."

While Morris doesn't want to place limitations on Freeman, he also doesn't want to rush the 21-year-old's development.

"He's the long-term answer, there's no doubt about that," the coach said. "But if he forces his will ... and becomes the best quarterback, there's a good chance you'll see him play."

It wouldn't be the first time. Freeman became the starter at Kansas State less than a month into his freshman season.

"We didn't have a whole lot of talent around us, but every time he'd walk on the field you felt you had a chance to win with this guy leading you," Morris said.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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