TAMPA, Fla. — The watch starts now. Sure, the study of rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has been part of life with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since he was taken in the third round, No. 73 overall, last April. But this much is clear: There is no quarterback controversy in pewter and red.
Since Glennon’s arrival, there has been over-analysis of Josh Freeman’s future as the Bucs’ man behind center. The talk is evidence of how much work the five-year veteran has to do to silence the most restless among a fan base that last saw a postseason berth after the 2007 season.
Among many, the doubt is alive. And it is strong.
Is Freeman still the guy? How big is this season for him? How much must he prove to receive a rich contract extension?
All were among the questions asked after Glennon entered the fold. Peripheral chatter (none from inside One Buc Place) about a strained relationship between Freeman and coach Greg Schiano only added to the perception that Glennon somehow represents a threat to the incumbent. All this happened despite unmistakable words from the coach and general manager Mark Dominik that this is Freeman’s team.
The facts, for whatever reason, became blurred.
So starting Thursday, in the Bucs’ first preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at Raymond James Stadium, we will see our first glances of Glennon in an NFL game. Likely, there will be many to come before Week 1. Schiano hinted that Freeman could be limited to about 10 plays against the defending Super Bowl champions.
This is a small step. But it is a step nonetheless that moves the Bucs past an offseason of bizarre doubt about Freeman’s place as the team’s top quarterback.
Training camp sessions, for the most part, have revealed Freeman as a controlled and confident player who has the physical attributes and weapons (Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, etc.) to improve upon his career-high 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns from last season. Training camp sessions, for the most part, have revealed Glennon as a rough-around-the-edges player who lacks the “look” of an NFL starter.
Yes, Glennon will receive his chances in the preseason, starting Thursday. And he should. He could grow into a fine football player one day, but “one day” is the key phrase. Do not expect for the Bucs to do an about-face on their quarterback situation anytime soon.
“Definitely Mike needs to play a lot, that’s for sure, just to get his feet wet,” Schiano said Tuesday, referring to Glennon.
“Everyone’s going to be different. I wouldn’t look for wholesale (change). Every player we’ve created an individual plan for, especially the starters.”
The Glennon-Freeman situation is an example of how quarterback “battles” can take on lives of their own this time of year. Critics of Freeman will always see someone who lacks Drew Brees’ winning resume. Critics of Freeman will always see someone who lacks Cam Newton’s flash. Critics of Freeman will always see someone who lacks Eli Manning’s creativity.
We live in a culture where bravado and highlight-reel stars are rewarded, praised. Freeman’s critics want more, more, more. In this town, the demands are deep.
But guess what? Freeman never has to be Brees, Newton or Manning. The Bucs will never ask him to be.
They will ask him to be consistent, to make the most of the talent around him. They will ask him to be a better-than-average leader as other potential stars do their jobs. They will ask him to improve, and should he lead them to the playoffs, they will gladly hand over a new, rich contract and ask him to sign on the black dotted line.
There will be static in the coming weeks and months. Freeman’s challenge will be making sure he grows in a healthy way. Make no mistake: This is an important year for him, because the fact remains that he has been part of only one winning season since he was taken No. 17 overall in the 2009 draft. That must change.
The best season came with a 10-6 record in 2010. The other years: 3-13 (2009), 4-12 (2011) and 7-9 (2012).
For most of his time here, the cannons have fired blanks.
So yes, Freeman has created this criticism, though it sometimes reaches absurd levels. The idea that his job is in danger this season is misguided. After all, Glennon has yet to prove that he’s the right choice at backup ahead of Dan Orlovsky.
If there is a true quarterback “controversy” at Bucs camp, that is the one.
“I want to move the offense,” Glennon said Tuesday. “I want to put points on the board, just show what I’m able to do, and as an offensive unit be the leader out there and put up good drives, put up points and really learn from what happens Thursday night.”
Learning should be Glennon’s focus now. Voices other than Dominik and Schiano have created a strange atmosphere of doubt around the Bucs’ quarterback situation. It has taken on a life of its own. Finally on Thursday, the talk will turn to action.