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Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman in NFL draft

TAMPA — Three years ago, an assistant coach leaves his NFL team to become defensive coordinator at Kansas State.

He meets a 19-year-old freshman who is 6 feet 5, 250 pounds and with so much product in his hair that he nicknames him "Soul Glo" after a character in the movie Coming to America.

But the kid quarterback has an arm strong enough to throw a football through a car wash without getting it wet. He is bright-eyed, charismatic and a sponge for information.

After just one year, the coach returns to his NFL team.

Now, Raheem Morris is the 32-year-old coach of the Bucs, the youngest coach in the league. He believes his biggest need is a franchise quarterback, and the team moves up two spots to select Josh Freeman.

"Soul Glo" is coming to Tampa Bay.

"If I had the Detroit Lions' pick at No. 1, I might have taken Josh Freeman," Morris said Saturday after taking him 17th overall in the draft's first round.

It's too early to know if Morris is starstruck by Freeman, but their universes were destined to collide.

Why else, with four quarterbacks already under contract, would the Bucs ignore their considerable needs on defense to draft another signal-caller?

Maybe it's because the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, fired coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen in part because of their failure to draft and develop a quarterback.

"The owners are very excited," Morris said. "They haven't had an opportunity to be this excited for 15 years, and they are really pumped up. They've got a chance for a franchise quarterback. That's our quarterback!"

Freeman became the first quarterback taken in the first round by the Bucs since Trent Dilfer at No. 6 in 1994 out of Fresno State.

Morris said he figured he was too familiar with Freeman to be completely objective. So he sat back until general manager Mark Dominik, the scouts and assistants did their evaluations.

"There is always a danger of having too much information on a guy," Morris said. "So early in the process, I tried to stay back away a little bit. You don't push a guy. You don't sell a guy. You don't even give your opinion of a guy because you don't want to sway people's opinion in the building. You just want him to get a chance to be around people.

"So you bring him in on a predraft visit. You meet with him at the (NFL) combine. You let the coaches evaluate the tape. You talk to him later. You get their opinions. You let them tell you what they believe. And then you say what you believe. Then you get all in the same circles, all in the same hat, you mix it up and you pull out a solution. He was the solution."

Like Morris, Freeman immediately proved he's not lacking confidence. Despite throwing 44 touchdowns and 34 interceptions in three seasons, Freeman declared himself better than Georgia's Matthew Stafford, who went No. 1 overall to the Lions, and Southern Cal's Mark Sanchez, who went No. 5 to the Jets.

"I feel like I have the best arm of the bunch," Freeman said. "I feel like when it comes down to it, the ability to make something happen and extend plays is my X-factor. I'm a big guy, a strong guy, extremely hard to sack.

"I think it comes down to the school I went to. I've worked out with both of those guys. I think they're really good. I'd take me over them. I think it comes down to they went to Georgia, which is a good, competitive team in the SEC, and Mark Sanchez went to USC, who pretty much wins the Pac-10 every year. I think it really came down to them going to better schools and winning more games and stuff like that that had me going 17th or dropping this low."

The Bucs, who owned the 19th pick, traded their first- and sixth-round choices to Cleveland to move up two spots for Freeman, fearful the Broncos at No. 18 might snatch him. But Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said that was never the case.

"We weren't interested, at that point, in the quarterback," McDaniels said.

Ever since Dominik and Morris were hired, they've focused on quarterback. First, they signed Luke McCown to a two-year, $7.5 million deal. Then they attempted to trade for Jay Cutler. Less than two weeks ago, they signed veteran Byron Leftwich.

Then Freeman was the only player the Bucs picked Saturday. They did not own a second-round pick, having dealt it to Cleveland for tight end Kellen Winslow.

Neither Freeman nor Morris would predict if Freeman would start as a rookie, but it's not out of the question after the Falcons' Matt Ryan and the Ravens' Joe Flacco led their teams to the playoffs in their first seasons a year ago.

"They showed a rookie quarterback can come in and a team can be successful," Freeman said. "But they also raised the bar extremely high. Those two guys coming in, being the only two first-round guys last year taking their teams to the playoffs is something people are going to expect this class to emulate. We're ready for the challenge."

Saturday, Morris and Freeman made it clear their relationship was endearing. The only question is if it will be enduring.

"I am married to him," Morris said. "There's no 'going to be.'

"Again, back to the quarterback, man! The quarterback! We all know you can't win in this league without a quarterback. You just can't do it."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman in NFL draft 04/25/09 [Last modified: Sunday, April 26, 2009 12:26pm]

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