TAMPA — Coach Raheem Morris maintains that his plan is to play QB Josh Freeman and most of the other starters sparingly in Saturday's preseason opener at Miami.
That prompted some fans to react with consternation given Freeman's lack of consistent reps in training camp as a rookie last season and his limited starts (nine games).
Morris defends the decision largely because playing Freeman longer would require the starting offensive line to play more, too. The Bucs don't want to expose their best linemen to injury.
"You want to go out there and let Josh be Josh and develop his skill set and do some of the things that we've been able to see him do in practice, make some completions, get off of the field and get him out of there healthy," Morris said.
"But you can't penalize your front five because Josh is young. He may have to just grow up a little faster."
Morris won't play Freeman without the starting line.
"If you send Josh out there, you better not send him out there with the (backup) line, or somebody's going to come have a conversation with me," Morris said, suggesting he was talking about ownership.
"And it's probably going to start with a (short) walk down the hallway, and as the walk gets longer, the more trouble I'm in."
THE OTHER JOSH: QB Josh Johnson, who was supplanted by Freeman in the starting lineup last season, is looking forward to his first game action since his benching.
Johnson is expected to play extensively Saturday, entering once Freeman leaves, probably in the first quarter. It's likely he'll go at least until at least halftime.
"I'm itching," he said. "Every day when I come out on the field, I know what I'm working toward. And that's (to play) when the lights come on.
"Right now is kind of like my season. As the second-string quarterback, it's guaranteed that I'm going to be in the game. So I'm excited to go out and show my development. It's all an opportunity to show growth and show myself becoming a leader and developing."
Morris said Johnson was with Freeman every step of the way as the latter put in extensive preparation during the offseason.
"I've got a lot of confidence in (Johnson)," Morris said. "He's put the work in. Freeman wasn't here alone this summer. … Those guys have kind of been working hand and hand, supporting each other."
Johnson said his understanding of the offense and quarterbacking in general has grown exponentially.
"Even if I do something wrong, I'm able to correct myself before the coaches," he said. "Last year I might not have been able to react so quickly as to why I made that mistake. This year I know.
"That's all part of the growth of a quarterback, and that's why I'm excited to start this preseason."
INJURY UPDATE: LB Barrett Ruud returned to practice and did not seem slowed by the groin strain that caused him to miss practice Monday and Tuesday.
CB Aqib Talib (groin), CB Myron Lewis (hamstring) and DT Brian Price (hamstring) were held out and became less likely to play Saturday.
HOLD THE PHONE: The Bucs claimed TE Mike Rucker off waivers Tuesday but waived him Wednesday when it was announced he failed his physical.
That opened a roster spot, which the team used to sign RB Carlos Brown, who was released by the Saints after joining them in April as an undrafted free agent from Michigan.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.