TAMPA — A year ago, the notion of using a first-round pick to draft QB Josh Freeman solicited groans from many Bucs fans.
The reasoning went something like this: too many other needs on the team; the Bucs might have a good starting quarterback in Luke McCown if he gets a chance; the 2010 quarterback class will be much better.
It's hard to argue there are not major needs after a 3-13 season in which the defense finished 27th in the league and allowed 25 points and 365.6 yards per game. McCown, who was traded to Jacksonville, has been a career backup. And the great quarterback class?
Oklahoma's Sam Bradford is coming off a serious shoulder injury. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen might be the only other quarterback taken in the first round. And Texas' Colt McCoy doesn't look like a franchise player at the position.
That's why GM Mark Dominik talks as if Freeman is just a few receivers away from leading the Bucs back to the playoffs.
Basically, the success of the team is riding on the shoulders of its 22-year-old quarterback.
"That's okay. That's what the position is," Dominik said. "If you don't take a quarterback this year, you've got to take a quarterback next year or the following year. You've got to address the position. We addressed it at the beginning, and it was very unpopular at the time because this year's class was supposed to be the quarterback class of the future. If I remember, a lot of people thought this was going to be the greatest quarterback class of all time. I don't know if it's held in that same regard.
"What would you all be saying today? 'Why didn't you take one last year when you had the opportunity?' "
Had Freeman played another season at Kansas State, he might be the first quarterback off the board in April's draft and a top-five choice.
But the Bucs seem to gloss over the fact that he threw 18 interceptions in nine starts, which translates to 32 over an entire season.
But Dominik's point is well-taken. Had the Bucs not drafted Freeman a year ago, they would have to choose from the 2010 class, which doesn't look nearly as good.
"You take a quarterback when you feel like you have a conviction," Dominik said. "There are a lot of fans who watched this football team all season long.
"I think there are a lot of people who have confidence in Josh Freeman to be one of the best quarterbacks who have been here."
Needing a vet: Speaking of quarterbacks, the Bucs want a veteran backup to help mentor Freeman. But it won't be Byron Leftwich. Aside from Leftwich's $2.5 million salary, the Bucs know he is not a grinder in the film room and almost a ghost in the weight room.
He is a great personality who can work on Freeman's psyche. But the Bucs want a player who will show up at 6 a.m. to watch film, spend extra time training with Freeman and know his role. Someone exactly like McCown.
Morris mum on staff: We would like to know what coach Raheem Morris thinks about the changes in his coaching staff (or anything else, for that matter), but he had no interest in engaging reporters about any topic at the Senior Bowl.
He spent a lot of time with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, refused requests and never broke stride when approached for three days.
What we've been told: Not one assistant coach has a contract beyond 2010.
It's a primary reason linebackers coach Joe Barry took the same position at Southern Cal. And it might be why the Bucs can't consider hiring any new coordinators. Dominik says the Glazers have not placed any restrictions on his ability to sign a quarterbacks coach or receivers coach to two-year deals. But let's see if that happens.
NFL owners are fearful of a work stoppage in 2011, so they don't want to potentially pay coaches for not working.
"When we've talked about receivers coaches or quarterbacks coaches and their qualifications, they're not sitting there saying, 'Boy, it's got to be a one-year deal,' or find the cheapest person possible," Dominik said.
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.