Bucs QB Freeman confident he can play through thumb pain

TAMPA, Fla. -- Josh Freeman practiced for the first time since breaking the thumb on his throwing hand and expects to play Sunday in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season opener against the Cleveland Browns.

The second-year pro quarterback missed the last two weeks of the preseason after banging his right thumb on the helmet of a pass rusher during an Aug. 21 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bucs were confident all along that Freeman would return before the start of the regular season.

"He looked great being back with this football team. He went through a whole practice," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said after Tuesday's workout. "We look forward to him progressing and getting better and better, and getting back to what he was doing before he went out."

Freeman didn't wear a bandage or protective splint on the thumb.

"We're going to try different things out this weekm" he said. "Right now, I'm going without any wraps or anything. ... We talked about a glove, but I feel more comfortable with just bare hands."

Freeman was the third quarterback selected in the 2009 draft behind Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions) and Mark Sanchez (New York Jets). Freeman started nine games as a rookie, going 3-6 after the Bucs opened 0-7 with Byron Leftwich and Josh Johnson running the offense.

Morris and offensive coordinator Greg Olson said they aren't concerned that Freeman attempted just eight passes during the preseason.

Freeman said he felt fine after testing his thumb while throwing the ball before last week's preseason finale at Houston. And he didn't report any problems after his first full practice in nearly three weeks.

"We think he's on schedule," Olson said. "It's a little sore, but he felt good."

Freeman said the thumb is "a little swollen, but nowhere near as bad as right after it first happened." He doesn't anticipate having difficulty handling snaps from center and insisted he doesn't fear reinjuring the hand.

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"I won't be thinking about it," Freeman said, adding that he's confident he'll be able to play with any pain associated with the thumb.

"It's just getting a feel for it and knowing my limitations. ... But it's getting better. It's been improving every day. ... It won't be bad. It's playing football. I'm going to get tackled. I'm going to hit the ground, probably run into a few people."

Morris stressed that Freeman took all the snaps he normally would handle as a starting quarterback, with Johnson taking the few allotted to backups.

And what would it take to keep Freeman from starting Sunday's opener?

"Not my thumb," he said. "It would have to be something outside of that. ... I expect to play and be fine."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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