TAMPA — Barring the unforeseen, the Bucs know who their starting quarterback is going to be on opening day. For all of Josh Freeman's flaws, his 4,065 passing yards last season were ninth in the NFL and his 27 touchdowns tied for seventh.
But after not availing themselves in the offseason to any of the options in free agency, the Bucs likely will have to reach into the draft if they truly wish to create a more competitive stable of quarterbacks — something coach Greg Schiano maintains is important.
But it's not a matter of finding just any quarterback. The Bucs want a player who fits their offense, which leans heavily on downfield throws. They prefer a guy who can be counted on for ball security. (Freeman threw 17 interceptions last season.) And they want someone who can be a viable backup with the potential to beat out their current No. 2 quarterback, veteran Dan Orlovsky.
And Tampa Bay will look to do this, most likely, after the first round or two of next week's draft.
Other than that, the Bucs shouldn't have much trouble finding what they want.
"In the middle of the draft, for that scheme, there's not a lot to choose from," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. "Schiano wants a guy who can protect the football. And they're going to be a run-first team. Then they're going to take their shots down the field. The problem is that the guys who have the strong arms who can drive it down the field who are available from Round 3 on (aren't reliable)."
With Geno Smith of West Virginia, Matt Barkley of USC and, potentially, Ryan Nassib of Syracuse projected to be the first quarterbacks off the board, the Bucs will have to look further down a list of quarterbacks that's not particularly deep.
There's no consensus on Florida State's EJ Manuel, but if he falls, he would be of interest to the Bucs. Like Freeman, he has excellent size, 6 feet 5, 237 pounds. His athleticism, also like Freeman, is among his best attributes as is his strong arm and ability to throw downfield. Manuel's experience in a pro-style offense won't hurt in the NFL, especially with a team such as Tampa Bay.
"I did a lot of drop-back passing," he said. "It wasn't like I was in the (shotgun) the whole time. I was able to take under-center snaps. We did a silent count at Florida State. Things like that get overlooked."
If Manuel isn't available to the Bucs, they might have to look to the next tier. That includes Mike Glennon of N.C. State, Landry Jones of Oklahoma, Tyler Bray of Tennessee and Zac Dysert of Miami (Ohio).
But with any of those, the Bucs would be making some projections.
"They don't qualify in terms of being able to protect the football," McShay said. "But if they're developmental prospects, that's the area you develop."
The Bucs would have to look at upside. Glennon, 6-6, 220 pounds, has a strong arm and threw 31 touchdowns in 2012. Maybe that overshadows his 17 interceptions as a senior.
Jones is interesting despite his uneven performance in 2012 after a stronger 2011. He might benefit from a more balanced offense in the pros.
"I think when he's in rhythm and has protection, he's very, very good," former Bucs coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said. "I think when he gets knocked off the spot or he's under duress, I think he took a step back this year. But remember, Oklahoma didn't have a tight end much this year. They didn't run the ball particularly well or often, and they were a tad bit one-dimensional."
Bray is renowned for his arm strength but also criticized for his work ethic and inconsistency. But as a third- or fourth-round prospect, he might be worth a long look.
"If someone can get to him and get him on the right path," McShay said, "I think you'll wind up with a huge steal in this draft."
Dysert is seen as a fourth-round choice by many analysts mostly because of technique flaws and inaccuracy. But he has eye-opening ability, too.
"He's a hard one to figure out," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "He made a throw against Ohio State that took my breath away.
"The more you watch, you like a lot of what you see. You really don't like a lot of what you see from an accuracy perspective, footwork, et cetera."
Unless the Bucs are willing to commit a high pick to a position that's not an immediate need, they will be picking from some flawed quarterbacks. Maybe that's why Schiano sounds noncommittal, at best.
"If we get someone in here, we do," he said this week. "If we don't, we don't. I'm good with that."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.