Can Josh Freeman be the “Man” in Tampa?

Josh Freeman taking questions from reporters at the NFL Draft April 25. Photo by Chris Murray

Josh Freeman taking questions from reporters at the NFL Draft April 25. Photo by Chris Murray

By Chris Murray

of the Chris Murray Report

New York—If former Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman had played a couple of BCS bowl games and had a winning record during his tenure as the Wildcats signal caller, he would have most certainly received just as much hype as Detroit Lions draftee and designated franchise “Savior” Matt Stafford and New York Jets “Chosen One” Mark Sanchez.

Competing in the quarterback rich Big 12 Conference with guys like Oklahoma’s 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, Texas’s Colt McCoy, Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell and Missouri’s Chase Daniel, some might argue that Freeman is not as good as those guys.

Despite coming up with identical 5-7 seasons in his last two seasons as a collegian, the 6-foot-5, 248-pound, boyish -looking Freeman apparently had enough upside and potential to be the third quarterback taken and the 12th pick overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in this year’s draft.

Unlike Stafford and Sanchez, no one is expecting Freeman to be the “Messiah” or the “Savior.” In fact, Tampa Bay fans weren’t necessarily waving palms saying, “Hosanna, Hosanna” when Freeman’s name was called. It was a loud crescendo of boos from Bucs fans gathered at Raymond James Stadium on draft day.

The Bucs organization believe Freeman will eventually be the “Chosen One” for their team for years to come.

“This kid is the ‘savior of this franchise,” said Doug Williams, Super Bowl XXII MVP and Buccaneers pro scouting coordinator. “He’s a franchise quarterback. We’re not going to put him on the front line now. Eli Manning wasn’t on the front line, Steve McNair wasn’t on the front line Phillip Rivers wasn’t on the front line—You can name a lot of guys who weren’t on the front line right away.

“It ain’t about the front line, it’s who brings up the rear and ends up at the front.”

Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, who coached Freeman as a freshman when he was an assistant at K-State, believes he can be that “franchise” guy the way folks are touting Stafford and Sanchez.

“Anytime you get a chance to get a franchise quarterback on your football team, a guy that creates so much excitement, a guy with a big arm, a guy that’s accurate, a guy that’s got talent,6-5, 250 pounds that can stand in the pocket and deliver the ball and be your guy of the future, you go out and get him,” Morris said.

“You never say when a guy’s going to be a franchise quarterback, he’ll tell you. He’ll let you know. … When you draft a quarterback in the first round, he is the long-term decision. He’s the direction we’re going.”

Oddly enough, Freeman likens himself to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was also booed on his draft day. When he was introduced to the Tampa media earlier this week, he was unfazed by the acrimonious greeting from Bucs fans.

“I’ve talked to a number of quarterbacks who are in the league and they tell you the same thing, it’s not about what are people are saying, it’s about the attitude you carry into the office every day and you’re willingness to work,” said Freeman, who played in just one bowl game in three years at Kansas State. “A great example was Donovan McNabb last year. They were ready to bench him and he wins six games in a row and carries them to the NFC Championship game. It’s all about the attitude.”

Freeman will come into his first rookie camps, minicamps, and training camps, not only having to learn the Bucs offense, but he will be competing with veterans like Byron Leftwich, Josh Johnson Brian Griese and Luke McKown—guys who have been around for awhile.

“(Freeman) knows what position he’s in, he knows that he’s under no pressure,” Williams said. “The key for him is to come in, get acclimated and when he’s ready to play, I promise you, he will.”

More than likely, Freeman will be carrying a clipboard on the sidelines rather than being thrown out to the wolves, or more accurately the Panthers, the Saints, and the Falcons right off the bat. Freeman believes he can be the guy for the Bucs for this year.

“I think it’s going to be a great situation with Byron, Josh Johnson and a number of quarterbacks, but I’m just going to go down there and learn from the veterans and at the same time, compete with them,” Freeman said. “It’s definitely going to be a long learning process, you can at last year and see Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan having success. It depends on the approach you take and how hard are you willing to work. I’m going to work as hard as I can to put myself in a position to start.”

The knock on Freeman from all the draft pundits and scouts is his accuracy and his touchdown to interception ratio. In his final season at Kansas State, Freeman completed completed 58 percent of his passes, threw 20 touchdown passes with eight interceptions and passed for 2,945 on a Wildcats team that lacked talent.

“He’s a big imposing guy, stands in the pocket, has a strong arm and he’s tough,” Williams said. “He’s athletic, he shows poise in the pocket and shows leadership on the field. He’s everything you want in a quarterback.”

For his three-year collegiate career, Freeman completed 59 percent of his passes. He threw 44 touchdown passes, but also threw 34 interceptions. The fact that he didn’t complete more than 60 percent of his passes in his career has some wondering about his accuracy.

“I was lucky enough to be there when he came in as a freshman and I watched him lead us and beat teams with him,” Morris said. “We didn’t have a whole of talent around us, but every time he walked on the field, we had a chance to win-no matter who we were playing whether it was Texas or FIU (Florida International University). It didn’t matter.”

A good example of what Morris was talking about came during his freshman year in 2006 when he threw three touchdown passes and ran for another a scoring in the Wildcats 45-42 upset of a fourth-ranked Texas squad that was in line to compete for a national championship.

What stands out most about Freeman is that he has a quiet confidence in himself and his ability as a quarterback. He believes that he is better than both Stafford and Sanchez.

“I think they’re tremendous players, but honestly,it’s my ability to make plays. I only got sacked 13 times and I think it’s due to the fact that I’m a big physical presence in the pocket and when you’re talking about staying in the pocket taking a hit and still delivering the ball, my size and agility often times allows me to escape and make a play down field,” Freeman said.

“I’m a combination of a lot of guys, but if I he to compare I’d say maybe like McNabb with the ability to escape in the pocket and still be a pocket passer.”

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