TAMPA — The word most associated these days with quarterback Josh Freeman is control — of the huddle, of the offense and his passes.
Freeman won't take another snap after today until he reports to training camp late next month. That means a big percentage of his development from unpolished rookie to second-year starter has already occurred.
On Monday, Freeman went 11-of-16 (unofficially) with one touchdown and one dropped pass during seven-on-seven drills during the morning workout at the Bucs' mandatory minicamp. One pass was nearly intercepted by cornerback Aqib Talib.
In the afternoon session, Freeman moved the offense effectively for a field goal during a two-minute team period.
"I feel I'm a lot better in a lot of different ways, whether it's the playbook, watching film, but also we get a lot of physical work, fundamental work trying to improve accuracy this season," said Freeman, 22.
"The biggest difference? I feel wiser, and I feel a lot better in our system. I'm a little more assertive and more vocal. When you know what's going on and what you're doing, it's a lot easier to tell other people how you want them to do it."
Bucs coach Raheem Morris has not tried to sugarcoat the expectations regarding the 6-foot-6, 248-pound Freeman. He says this is his time and his team.
"It all falls on 5's shoulders," Morris said. "He knows that, our organization knows that, our team knows that, and we look forward to it.
"The most noticeable thing is going to be No. 5 (Freeman), his development and how much better he's going to be able to play and how much more control he's going to have of the offense. It's going to be the single-most important thing that turns our offense around, that changes us into a contender, that changes us into one of those offenses that can be considered premier."
Freeman started the final nine games of 2009, going 3-6 with 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He fumbled 10 times, losing two. He completed 59.8 percent of his passes, which was better than the Lions' Matthew Stafford and the Jets' Mark Sanchez.
"Last year, I was just trying to remember all the words going into the huddle," he said. "Now, I'm fluent."
Coaches and teammates point to the work ethic of the former Kansas State star as the reason for his improvement since January. He became a fixture at One Buc Place two weeks after the end of the '09 season and organized workouts with receivers.
"Especially since he played a lot last year, the second year is when you take your biggest jump," linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "It kind of reminds me a lot of my second year when I started, too. He knows what he wants to do, and what I see is that he's working on things in practice to get better. He's not just going through the motions. …
"I think he knows how to prepare now. That's a good thing."
Of course, Freeman is not a finished product. Training camp and the preseason will offer more tests before the regular season.
"Is he a seasoned veteran-type player yet? No," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "He's got some work to do over the summer, and then we've got a lot of work to do in training camp. But for a second-year player, he's where I'd want him to be, and we've got high expectations for him."
Defensive end Gerald McCoy, the Bucs' first-round pick from Oklahoma, played against Freeman in college. He likes what he sees from Freeman with the Bucs.
"Freeman is the guy," McCoy said. "I've actually known Free since high school. He was my teammate at the All-American game, and I played against him in college, and now he's my teammate again in Tampa. I've seen a lot of great things from him, and he's going to be ready. He puts all the work in and overtime.
"He has no fear, that's what I like about him the most. He started a good number of games, but he wasn't the guy last year. … He's ready to take on all new challenges."
Rewarding that belief is important to Freeman, who says he has grown as a result of support in the locker room and the community.
"It's awesome to know your town's behind you. You're going out fighting for your city every Sunday, and it's a good deal. Now we have to go out and return the favor by winning some games."