Freeman relieved his thumb injury isn't worse
Quarterback Josh Freeman felt the pain in his thumb and figured something was wrong.
X-rays revealed Freeman fractured the tip of his thumb and he will not play the remainder of the preseason. However, the team said he is expected to practice and be ready for the season opener against the Cleveland Browns Sept. 12.
“I was hoping it was just jammed,’’ Freeman said, his thumb immobilized with a splint and heavily bandaged. “But it was a little different pain than just being jammed. When I saw the x-ray, they said there was a little fracture. When I heard that and saw the x-ray, I was kind of freaking out. They said, “Hey, just take care of it and it’ll be a couple weeks.’ When I heard that, it made me feel a lot better.’’
While the prognosis appears optimistic, coach Raheem Morris admitted he wasn’t exactly sure when Freeman would be cleared to resume practicing.
"How big of a setback? It’s a team setback obviously when you lose your first quarterback,’’ Morris said. “We’re lucky. It’s an injury we expect him back the first week of the season. That’s very fortunate. It could be worse.
“I’ll have to get a feel for that, when he can practice exactly. Right now we know he fractured the tip of his thumb on his throwing hand. He has an even demeanor about it.’’
Freeman completed his first two passes Saturday. But on second-and-5 from the Kansas City 13-yard line, he struck his hand on a helmet during his follow through of an incomplete pass to tight end John Gilmore. On the next play, he was unable to grip the ball and fired incomplete to Sammie Stroughter.
“The next play, I couldn’t really grab it or grasp the ball too well, so I just tried to grip the points,’’ Freeman said.
"It’s kind of frustrating because this game I was supposed to get a lot more reps and throw 15 or 20 passes. I was looking forward to it, getting out there and getting to stretch the field with Mike Williams a little more and getting to work with Reggie (Brown). Other than that, I can turn my attention to Cleveland and these first few games and start getting ready for them. There’s different ways you can spin it, but I’m choosing to spin it positively.”
But the eggshell fragility of the Bucs season wasn’t lost on Tampa Bay fans Saturday night. Assuming the prognosis for Freeman is correct, it still means he will play less this preseason than he did as a rookie and attempt only eight passes (completing six for 74 yards and a TD) before facing the Browns.
With Freeman’s status shaky, the most important player for the Bucs heading into the regular season may be backup quarterback Josh Johnson, who went 0-4 as a starter in 2009.
Certainly, Johnson’s performance Saturday night was encouraging.
He entered the game on the series after Freeman’s injury and finished 6-of-10 passing for 133 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown pass to Michael Spurlock. It was a bit of redemption for Johnson, who struggled in the preseason opening loss at Miami, where he threw an interception and lost a fumble when the ball slipped out of his hand.
“Now it’s even more critical that every time something like this may happen, to be more ready to go out and help this team,’’ Johnson said. “That’s what it’s all about.’’
Morris said he will meet today with general manager Mark Dominik and decide whether to add another quarterback to the roster. In addition to Johnson, the Bucs have Rudy Carpenter, who was claimed off waivers from the Cowboys last year.
Carpenter played the entire second half and went 8-of-11 passing for 79 yards, including a game-winning 5-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Nunn
The Bucs could look for a veteran quarterback or simply re-sign Jevan Snead, the former Ole Miss quarterback who spent time with the Bucs in the off-season.
“That’s what I expect Josh to do,’’ Morris said. “When a quarterback goes down, you always have a big foot to fill with those starters. Freeman went down…note that the team didn’t blink and continued to play.’’
Even if Freeman is ready for the season opener against the Browns, he figures to be a little rusty.
“He’s got to be hot,’’ Morris said. “He’s got to come out hot and be ready to go. That’s why we have OTA days, that’s why we have minicamp, that why you have all those things to prepare for this. And now it’s here and he’s going to lose some reps on the field playing against people, but he was able to get it in the off-season. He’ll be ready to go.’’