|J. Meric/Getty Images|
|Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Josh Freeman gets his first start Sunday, against the Packers.|
TAMPA, Fla. -- In April, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Josh Freeman and said he eventually would be the franchise quarterback. These days, the Bucs need Freeman to be nothing short of their savior.
That’s what it has come to. Seriously. Let’s not waste time dancing around what’s going on in Tampa Bay. Freeman’s going to get his first NFL start Sunday and a lot of jobs depend on what he does in the next nine games.
From coach Raheem Morris to general manager Mark Dominik to just about every other player on the roster, their futures all depend on what Freeman does in the next nine games. He doesn’t have to instantly be Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco, but the kid from Kansas State must show something.
Anything -- and I mean anything -- slightly positive could save a lot of people. Let’s face it, the Bucs didn’t hire Morris and Dominik with the intention of bringing them in for one season and then turning around and replacing them with someone like Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan.
They hired them to do what Jon Gruden could not -- build a team for the long term. When the Glazer family hired Morris and Dominik, they told them to make the roster younger, and there’s no doubt a certain amount of implied patience came with that.
But what Morris and Dominik have done so far doesn’t quite look like they’re building from the ground up. They look like they’ve knocked everything down and kept digging until they have enough room to build about 10 subway lines.
They’re 0-7 and, to this point, the Bucs haven’t shown a single positive, except for maybe rookie receiver Sammie Stroughter. Jobs aren’t saved and franchises aren’t made by seventh-round receivers making a few nice catches.
It’s all going to come down to Freeman and if he can win a couple of games and show some improvement. That’s really going to be the only way the people who were hired to start the rebuilding job will have a chance to finish it.
Coaches who go 0-16 or 1-15 just don’t survive. And, really, is there any reason to keep Morris if things keep going the way they are? No, but we’re not quite to that point yet. There’s still time to create some hope, still time for Morris to find something to hang his hat on.
But that has to be Freeman because there’s nothing else. The Bucs are at their lowest point since the Sam Wyche days and, coincidentally, Freeman will make his starting debut in orange because the Bucs are digging out those old Creamsicle uniforms against the Packers.
They also will be playing in a stadium at least half full of Green Bay colors because the Bucs aren’t the most popular ticket in town and Packers fans travel and a lot of them are transplanted in Florida.
Not a great situation to start a kid who came out of college early and was not viewed as being ready to start in the NFL from Day One by everyone, including the Bucs.
“I take it as a challenge,’’ Freeman said. “I can’t really control what the defense does, but I can control what the offense does. I’m the quarterback. It gets to the matter of just getting something going.’’
I was of the school of thought that the Bucs should have just gone ahead and thrown Freeman in as the starter from the very start. If you’re going to rebuild, why not start doing it with the guy you’re supposedly building around in the lineup?
The Bucs didn’t see it that way. Basically, they didn’t want to throw him out there too soon, shatter his confidence, and turn him into the second coming of David Carr. That thinking has some merit because Tampa Bay’s offensive line has been terrible, the running game non-existent and the receivers (aside from Stroughter and tight end Kellen Winslow) have been unable to catch anything.
That offense made NFL veteran Byron Leftwich, who was supposed to be a bridge to Freeman, look so bad that he had to be benched. The Bucs were so determined to get through their game in London against the Patriots without starting Freeman that they turned things over to Josh Johnson, who had no business starting in the NFL.
But the Patriots and London are in the past. It’s time for Freeman. Ready or not, the entire franchise is on his shoulders.
“That’s not heavy on my mind because I’m just looking at it from a personal standpoint of what I want to do and my career goals I set up even before the draft happened,’’ Freeman said. “My goal is to wherever I got drafted, I want to be there my whole career and win a lot of football games. I think the pressure I put on myself outweighs that in my mind. They both kind of run together.”
Maybe it’s best that Freeman views it like that and maybe that approach will help him make the kind of incremental progress that will give the Bucs hope and save some jobs. If he truly realized what’s at stake for everyone and went out and tried to turn it all around at once, it might be too much for one person.
Freeman can be the franchise quarterback down the line. For now, he just needs to show something that says the Bucs might be on the right path and that will be enough. For Morris and Dominik and this rebuilding project, a little bit of progress from Freeman will make him the savior.