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Tampa Bay Buccaneers best served by keeping Josh Freeman's preseason stints short

TAMPA — Play Josh Freeman.

Play him in the preseason, play him into the second quarter, play him after halftime, play him whether the games are sold out or blacked out.

That's the refrain from fans when it comes to the second-year quarterback, who started the final nine games last season.

Certainly, Freeman could use the reps against a first-team defense. He also needs more work with his rookie receivers, Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn.

But coach Raheem Morris is sticking to his plan tonight against the Chiefs.

"In the first two games, we want to keep it the same, keep it similar," Morris said. "We want him to get out there and get about 12-15 snaps. If he gets a little more, great. If he gets a little less, great. Either way, that means something went well.

"Last week, we had a plan to get him 12-15 (snaps). He had the potential to play the first quarter. He went out and executed two good first drives. One was stopped by an offsides penalty, and the other one he went down there and scored. We felt comfortable to take him out. It's going to be around the same or real similar."

As much as Morris would like to not have Freeman on a Joe Maddon pitch count, it makes sense. Freeman represents the best and only hope of the Bucs winning this season. Maybe next season, as well.

Would he benefit from more plays against live bullets? Sure he would.

But consider the cost. The Bucs are not going to put Freeman in harm's way, which means they're not going to play him behind the second-team line.

So to protect Freeman for the regular season, Morris has to protect those five starting offensive linemen.

As bad as Byron Leftwich played during his 0-3 start last season, it was made much worse by the injury loss of starting C Jeff Faine in the regular season opener against Dallas.

The Bucs were forced to start backup Sean Mahan, who was released as soon as Faine was healthy again. Tampa Bay's offensive line is razor thin.

What does the preseason prove anyway? Remember, if Freeman played into the third quarter, it would be against guys he won't face on Sunday anyway. And teams do not spend 100 hours installing a game plan to confuse Freeman in the preseason.

The last Bucs quarterback to start all 16 games during the regular season was Brad Johnson. The NFL season is a marathon. The Bucs just want to get Freeman, and his offensive line, to the starting line.

IS THERE AN AGENDA?: The Bucs were all too eager to announce, in essence, that both preseason games, and likely more in the regular season, will be blacked out. It serves the franchise in a few ways to do so.

To start with, Bucs fans have a chance to get used to their new reality, and the team is wagering they might not like it. At least a few thousand might pony up and buy tickets for the regular-season opener against Cleveland. As it stands, only games against the Steelers and Saints have a shot at being sold out.

Secondly, the Glazers are on record saying they favor going to an 18-game schedule. What better way to show the players that fans don't want to pay full price for preseason games than a bunch of blackouts?

FULL-HOUSE BACKFIELD: Not many NFL teams make much use of fullbacks. Earnest Graham will be the Bucs' starter. But it remains to be seen whether true, big-bodied pile movers such as Chris Pressley or Rendrick Taylor can make the team.

Roster spots are precious; that's why the Bucs have experimented with DT Roy Miller and LB Adam Hayward at fullback in short-yardage packages. TE Ryan Purvis might be another option, Morris said.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers best served by keeping Josh Freeman's preseason stints short 08/20/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 20, 2010 9:29pm]

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