TAMPA — Josh Freeman is 22 years old with nine NFL starts, which means he has more than twice as much experience as any other quarterback on the Bucs roster.
His backup, 24-year-old Josh Johnson, went 0-4 as a starter last season. Behind him is Rudy Carpenter, 24, and rookie Jevan Snead, 22, neither of whom has ever taken a snap in pro football.
Quarterbacks this young are usually bottle-fed information and burped for several years before an NFL coach will trust them with their future and 401(k)s.
But "an organizational" decision by general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris has anointed Freeman as the franchise quarterback and Johnson as the only backup who has crossed the white lines in pro football.
"We're going to coach and play with the players we have here," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "That's an organizational decision, and we're all in this thing together. That's the direction the organization decided to go, so I'm comfortable with it. I have a lot of confidence in Josh Johnson. I have a lot of confidence in Josh Freeman. They're going to have to grow up maybe a little faster than maybe had they gone somewhere else."
It's instructive to note that Freeman and Johnson have each thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes in their brief NFL careers.
But Johnson, who is entering his third season, said he greatly benefited from his experience as a starter last season.
"It gave me a realization of what it takes to win," said Johnson, who lost to the Redskins, Eagles, Panthers and Patriots (playing only Carolina in Tampa). "For me, there were so many things going through my head the time I was starting. But now, I've been out there and I know how to handle it and how to prepare myself.
"I understand the reality that as long as we have a chance to win the game at the end of the game, that will help you grow as a quarterback in this league."
A year ago at this time, Johnson and Freeman took virtually no reps with the first unit. They were on another end of the field like junior varsity players while the Bucs engaged in a pointless quarterback battle between Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown, who was traded to Jacksonville.
Now Josh-squared takes 90-95 percent of the reps. Olson believes in Johnson, who was forced to play without injured starting C Jeff Faine.
The hiring of Alex Van Pelt as quarterbacks coach negated the need to hire a veteran backup. Van Pelt played caddie to Joe Montana and Jim Kelly, among others, and can play the mentoring role.
"I think Josh (Johnson) definitely has the ability to be a starter in this league, and that's a goal of his, and it should be a goal of his," Olson said. "Lots of guys talk about, 'Is he accurate enough?' Yeah, I believe he's accurate enough. He needs more experience; he needs to take care of the ball better. But in terms of the accuracy and intelligence, the arrow is rising.
"A lot of people may say, 'What has he done to deserve it?' But I get a chance to see him every day and be with him in meetings, and I've witnessed his growth. I have the confidence in him, and I think the team has the confidence in him as opposed to bringing in an older, journeyman guy."
Carpenter, who was claimed off waivers from the Cowboys, is a "gym rat," Olson said, with limited physical ability and a mountain of intangibles. Snead, an undrafted rookie from Ole Miss, seems destined for the practice squad.
In other words, if Freeman and Johnson go down, the Bucs will be sunk.
"We've kind of got our fingers crossed on those two guys staying completely healthy and going with those two guys," Olson said. "Knock on wood, if something were to happen with those two guys, then I would be a little more nervous."
Bucs bits: Sure, organized team activities are voluntary. But Bucs coaches were not pleased that RB Derrick Ward missed last week to take care of a "dental situation" when there was more than a week between workouts. … WR Sammie Stroughter is making a push for a starting job. In addition to his flanker duties, he's working as an outside receiver and using his speed and quickness to get off the line of scrimmage. … WR Mike Williams, the fourth-round pick from Syracuse, appears to be ahead of Illinois WR Arrelious Benn, who was taken two rounds ahead of him. But Benn's real worth will be demonstrated once the pads go on and he's able to break tackles and make yards after the catch. … Judging from Thursday's workout, the only one open to the media last week, the defense is playing much faster than a year ago and ahead of the offense. … Olson is tinkering with a lot of new formations. During red-zone work, Olson put Freeman in the shotgun and had two running backs on the same side of the formation.