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Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie QB Josh Freeman ends up-and-down first week of camp with a good day

TAMPA — Byron Leftwich can vividly recall what it was like being the seventh overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft, and the memories are not at all fond.

"I don't want to go through that no more," he said. "Nobody wants to be a rookie. Everything goes so fast. It takes time to adjust to it."

He knows how Bucs rookie quarterback Josh Freeman feels. Leftwich has played a major role in helping the first-round pick navigate the difficult transition from college.

The process is well under way after a week of training camp, and Freeman is learning that it takes a headstrong individual to complete it.

Though there was a time he looked like he might challenge Leftwich and Luke McCown for the starting job in the fall, the reality is that Freeman has been predictably uneven, like most quarterbacks his age.

But Freeman, 21, has come to grips with it.

"One thing you have to remember is that (your performance) is never as good as you think it is and it's never as bad as you think it is," Freeman said Friday, one of his better days in camp.

"Some days have been good. Some days have been bad."

No one associated with the Bucs organization has predicted that Freeman would be the opening day starter, but no one has said that was out of reach, either.

Freeman, who left Kansas State after his junior season, was anointed the future franchise quarterback on the day he was drafted in April. Even now, there is little hesitation to say that is his position.

"Josh Freeman was brought here to be our franchise guy," coach Raheem Morris said Friday.

Leftwich had the same responsibility placed on his shoulders in Jacksonville. What he lacked was perspective.

"I thought I'd have won five Super Bowls in Jacksonville," he said. "But the longer you stay in this league, the more you understand you still have to have high expectations, but you have to understand how to achieve those expectations."

That's beginning to happen with Freeman.

With Leftwich and McCown taking a limited number of snaps Friday, Freeman got a chance to lead the offense for much of the full-team portions of practice. Among his feats was a series in which he positioned the offense for a tying field goal in a two-minute drill simulation and a touchdown pass to tight end Jerramy Stevens in a red zone period.

On the days things haven't clicked for Freeman, Leftwich's advice has been critical.

"The last time we got a big dose of Josh Freeman, he didn't have a great day," Morris said.

"He was distraught at himself and came in and gave you that … 'Dude, I don't throw interceptions. I can't believe I did that.' ''

Rather than fret over it, coaches want Freeman to learn from it. His makeup suggests he'll continue to do that.

"He's been raised very well by his family," quarterbacks coach Greg Olson said. "He's a strong character guy."

Freeman is learning from his highs and lows. And he is refining his game; an example is his effort to use more touch on certain passes.

"There's a time and a place for firing it in there," Freeman said. "There's also a place for taking a little off of it and giving a receiver the best chance to catch it."

And he is far more confident in the huddle and under center.

"I'd say maybe the first time I stepped in there, I might have had this really long call," he said. "You're like, 'Man, I hope I remember this play.' But you get to a point where you can just step in there and spit it out. I think I've come a long way in that respect.

"Also, you start understanding the play. You start thinking, 'If the safety comes, what's my call? If the corner comes, what's my call? What if they rotate strong?' It's coming along."

After Freeman's first six days, the rookie is pretty much where the Bucs thought he'd be.

"He's going through the process," Morris said.

"But the talent is clear-cut."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com

Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie QB Josh Freeman ends up-and-down first week of camp with a good day 08/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 8, 2009 1:37pm]
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