TAMPA — In his first practice as the Bucs' starting quarterback on Wednesday, rookie Josh Freeman was forced to strap on the club's original helmet.
It is part of the throwback uniform Freeman will wear when he makes his first NFL start Nov. 8 against the Packers at Raymond James Stadium.
The winking, stiletto-chewing pirate might want to keep both eyes closed this time.
In making the move to the 17th overall pick, the Bucs are hoping Freeman doesn't suffer the same indignities as other first-round quarterbacks who made debuts in those uniforms, such as Doug Williams, Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde and Trent Dilfer.
"Josh Freeman will take over as starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," coach Raheem Morris said after practice. "No discredit to what Josh Johnson did for this football team. He's gone out there and gave us his best efforts. But the preparation, the timing, how we want to acclimate our young man into our system, into our organization, into our town, into our community, we think it's best coming off the bye. It's the most time to prepare.
"It's time to see Josh Freeman."
Freeman, who played two fourth-quarter series in his first NFL regular-season game Sunday against the Patriots in London, said he was excited to get his chance.
"It's something I've been working towards my entire career, and it's not something I'm taking lightly," he said. "I come out with a different swagger I guess because I'm the guy taking the majority of the snaps and I'm the guy who has to radiate that type of swagger so my teammates can catch onto it."
Unlike Byron Leftwich and Johnson, who combined for an 0-7 record, the plan is for Freeman to start the rest of the season — and beyond — regardless of the won/loss record.
"This is a different deal," Morris said. "This is Freeman."
Freeman completed 2-of-4 passes for 16 yards and was sacked twice in relief of Johnson, who lost all four starts while throwing eight interceptions. Morris said Johnson will be the No. 2 quarterback.
The Bucs had targeted the Packers game as the time to launch Freeman's career. He's only 21, and history told Morris and general manager Mark Dominik that college juniors drafted in the first round struggle if they are forced to start early in the NFL.
They wanted Freeman to take his time learning the terminology, how to watch film, understanding the implementation of the game plan and how to correct mistakes. It also was important that Freeman have the best supporting cast, so the return of center Jeff Faine from injury contributed to the decision.
Morris says Freeman has improved dramatically since the preseason, when he completed 44.9 percent of his passes for 238 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He also rushed for 75 yards and one touchdown on eight carries.
"Josh came out there (Sunday) and was able to control the offense and do what he needed to do," Morris said. "… He knew exactly where to go with the football."
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said that while he wishes Freeman got more reps in training camp, the rookie from Kansas State is ready. He plans to tailor play-calling to the 6-foot-6 Freeman, who has a strong arm and can drive the football like Leftwich but enough mobility to make plays like Johnson.
"With Josh Johnson and his ability to move, there were certain plays put in for him," Olson said. "With Byron (being) more of a pocket guy, we protected more up front and did some more of the max protection. Josh Freeman is a little bit in between, so you can kind of do the best of both worlds."
According to Morris, Freeman can handle the entire offensive package. "You don't scale back," he said. "You do what you've been doing, you get better at what you've been doing. … You let him see the adjustments, you let him go through the adjustments mentally, and now it's time for him to go play physically. Here we go."