Bucs QB Freeman seeing improvement

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St. Petersburg Times (Florida)

St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer

Josh Freeman deliberately bounced a worm killer at the feet of one receiver. A few other passes were aimed at his bench. Several times, he just tucked the ball under his arm, ran away from trouble and slid as if he were stealing second base.

The growth of the Bucs’ young quarterback was more evident in the throws he didn’t make in Sunday’s 20-7 win at Carolina.

Freeman went 12-of-24 for 178 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. But it was his willingness to throw the ball away when plays broke down that had coaches buzzing Monday at One Buc Place.

“You’re just amazed and so happy and proud of that kid and what he’s been able to do and how far he’s come on the plays he didn’t make,” coach Raheem Morris said. “The bad snap in the air and he throws it out of bounds. It’s the screen that the Carolina Panthers did a great job of covering up and he throws it at {the receiver’s} feet. He’s able to get some balls off when a guy is grabbling at his receiver and he’s able to get another play. He absolutely pulls a Derek Jeter and pulls a flop when he gets hit by the defender. I was upset. I thought he got hit harder, but he got hit and did a little bit of acting on it.”

Freeman’s development might be the biggest reason the Bucs are 2-0 heading into Sunday’s game with the Steelers.

A year ago, the rookie from Kansas State led the Bucs to 469 total yards – the fifth-highest total in club history – but threw five interceptions in a loss to the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

Contrast that with Sunday’s game when Freeman connected on only 50 percent of his passes but avoided costly mistakes.

Freeman, 22, rushed four times for 43 yards and bought time with his feet.

The play everyone will remember came halfway through the second quarter on third and 17, when Freeman rolled right, shook off two would-be tacklers and threw a 40-yard dart to tight end Kellen Winslow. On the next play, he connected with rookie Mike Williams for a 35-yardtouchdown.

“I think he’s growing up before everyone’s eyes, and that’s very encouraging,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “It’s encouraging to see the way he was playing {Sunday}. It was the throws he didn’t make that were probably the most impressive. … The way he managed the game. He feels the rush so well, but he keeps his eyes downfield.”

On the touchdown to Williams, Freeman recognized the blitz and knew his receiver would adjust and run a post route.

“Josh, in his second year as a quarterback in this league, is able to recognize the blitzes and knowing right where to go with the football,” Olson said. “So that’s been impressive.

“He might see it {last year}, but I couldn’t sit here and guarantee you he would’ve seen it. He’s been locked in this season.”

Morris describes his team and Freeman as “wise beyond their years.” Playing error-free football is just the latest example.

“They were great decisions at great moments that could’ve been big-time positive plays for the Carolina Panthers, and he didn’t give them,” Morris said. “{At times} the best play is the one you didn’t make, and he proved that {Sunday}.”

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