TAMPA — Josh Freeman's first pass was a downward spiral. But it certainly doesn't mean his career will follow the same path.
"His first pass wasn't what he thought it should look like," Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski said. "I told him, 'Look, Matt Ryan called us after his first practice in Atlanta, and they threw an out route and he skipped it out there and it took three bounces.' I said, 'You're okay. You've got that out of your system. Now, let's go ahead and just start to play.' "
From that point on, Freeman stood out Friday on his first day of work as the team's No. 1 draft pick and anointed franchise quarterback from Kansas State.
Physically, at 6 feet 5, 250 pounds, Freeman towered over every teammate at rookie minicamp.
"He's an impressive-looking guy now," coach Raheem Morris said. "When you look at him, you can mistake him for everything. He's just an athletic, big, giant human that's walking the planet, and I'm glad he's on our team."
Sammie Stroughter, a seventh-round pick from Oregon State, said Freeman, 21, had a real presence on the field and in the huddle. Stroughter made several receptions working as a slot receiver.
"You can tell it all from his eyes," Stroughter said. "He comes in there and he'll look at you. He has that 'it' that some people have. When you see somebody just going in there looking fierce, it reassures everybody."
There were many times Freeman must have felt as if he were back in Manhattan, Kan. During afternoon drills, running backs and receivers, many on tryout contracts, dropped an alarming number of passes. But Freeman showed tremendous improvement from the morning walk-through, Jagodzinski said.
"It's only been two practices," Jagodzinski said. "I think he was nervous this morning. But he really did a nice job this afternoon picking up what we're trying to do and what we're teaching. What we're trying to do with these guys now, and particularly Josh, is to get him understanding the terminology, how we call things, what we're looking for as far as the reads. I mean, there's a whole process I think when you're developing a quarterback."
Freeman is the first quarterback the Bucs have drafted in the first round since Trent Dilfer in 1994. When he returns for offseason workouts this month, he will be further down on the depth chart behind Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich and perhaps even Josh Johnson (Brian Griese appears to be the odd man out).
But on Friday, the Bucs' only other passing arm in camp belonged to James Madison's Rodney Landers.
Jagodzinski, who helped develop Ryan as the coach at Boston College, said the Bucs need to proceed slowly with Freeman.
"I think you need to be patient with a quarterback, too. I really do. Because there's a lot of factors that go into … developing a quarterback. It takes time. You know, Matt Ryan was an anomaly, being able to come in and do what he did," Jagodzinski said of the league's offensive rookie of the year who led the Falcons into the playoffs.
Freeman flew home to Kansas City after his introductory news conference Monday and returned to Tampa on Thursday night. He said he has spent most of his time immersed in the Bucs' playbook and is glad to get back on the football field after months of individual workouts.
"It felt great," Freeman said. "It felt great going out there with an offensive line, taking snaps from center, throwing to receivers, reacting when you have to read. You're not out there with a couple guys running routes against air. You have to make reads and stuff.
"I'm not going to say I was nervous. I just wanted to come out and do well, obviously. I'd say most of the pressure came from myself wanting to come out and perform and be able to spit it out in the huddle and then go make it happen."
And what about that first errant pass?
"It didn't bounce three times," Jagodzinski said. "So we've got that going for us."