Freeman improves but Bucs preparing Johnson to start
Quarterback Josh Freeman has shown progress since injuring his right shoulder Sunday and made a couple of 'soft throws,' during the walk-through period Thursday.
But the Bucs are preparing to go with backup Josh Johnson, who took nearly all the first-team reps with the starting offense for the second straight day at practice.
Coach Raheem Morris says the team may not decide which quarterback will start until just prior to Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.
Freeman has a history of playing through pain. He broke his right thumb in the preseason in 2010 and did not miss a start. Earlier this year, he sprained the same thumb against the Bears in London Oct. 23 and did not miss a start.
"We look at the progress,'' offensive coordinator Greg Olson said of Freeman. "And from where he came on Sunday immediately after the game, to yesterday and then today, there's been a tremendous amount of improvement. Obviously, you take a player's pain tolerance into factoring on whether or not you think he's going to be able to play. Just based upon the improvement from yesterday until today, I feel pretty good about it.''
Freeman was injured on the Bucs' final offensive play in Sunday's 23-17 loss at Tennessee after fumbling the snap on fourth-and-1. He was limited in practice the past two days to executing mostly the running game portion of practice.
"He went out, threw a couple of soft throws early in walk-throughs this morning,'' Morris said. "He's getting better. We'll have to see, man, he's a day-to-day type of guy. He's a big man, strong guy, wants to play, wants to be there for his football team. We're preparing J.J. right now, Josh Johnson.''
Johnson, who will become a free agent after the season, has not started a game since 2009 when he went 0-4, losing to the Redskins, Eagles, Panthers and Patriots. This season, Johnson is 2-of-7 for 14 yards but Olson said the Bucs won't hesitate starting him.
"I know the locker room has a lot of trust in him,'' Olson said. "And it's just a matter of him getting a chance to go out there and play. He hasn't played now in two years, but he'll get a chance to go out if (Freeman's shoulder) doesn't come around. I think he's excited about the oppportunity and I think some of the guys are excited he may have an opportunity to play.''
Johnson isn't ready to rule Freeman out of Sunday's game.
"You never know with Free,'' Johnson said of Freeman. "I've seen him play through a lot of injuries, a lot of stuff, be tough, be a warrior. You try not to get too high or too low and try to play even kneel...I feel excited to get out there and get to play a whole four quarters.''
Morris said the Bucs will have to weigh the risks of playing Freeman and perhaps risking further injury versus missing Sunday's game but being close to 100 percent the final month of the season.
"There's no doubt, you've always got to put those things you head, you've always got to be hesitant on what you want to do,'' Morris said. "You don't want to rush a guy back, get him hurt worse. QB1 (Freeman) is going to be here the next 10 years, hopefully, if not more. Hopefully, we're all here with him because QB1 is playing well. We'll have the opportunity to get him ready to go.
"If he's not ready to go, we won't play him. If he's ready to go, though, we'll certainly play him.''