TAMPA — At this time last year, when the Bucs were beginning offseason practices, QB Josh Freeman was trying to stay afloat even as his head was swimming.
He was learning a new offense, learning new teammates and adjusting to life as a rookie, all while an afterthought behind veteran QBs Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown.
Now the unquestioned starter with Leftwich and McCown gone, Freeman is swimming just fine.
Freeman's timing was somewhat shaky Monday, throwing two interceptions to CB Aqib Talib, but he had control of his offense, and coaches and teammates raved about his commanding presence.
"The first day this year (compared to) the first day last year, we're light years ahead right now," Freeman said. "I feel a lot better. … It feels like it was yesterday. Time flies."
Freeman has been working diligently since late February, saying he has put in about five hours a day to build on last season, when he threw a startling 18 interceptions in 10 appearances. And he has influenced his teammates to take on a similar work ethic, urging them to come to conditioning workouts and to work independently of coaches on passing drills during the past two months.
Freeman planned to visit offensive rookies at their hotel Monday night to go over the script of today's practice, helping the young players grasp the scheme.
"I'm working," Freeman said. "The offseason isn't all the way finished. This is just one more step, one more piece of growing."
The Bucs will ask more of Freeman, and he has taken more of the load in designating the line's protection as his ability to read defenses improves. Last season, C Jeff Faine handled most of those chores.
"I don't know if you notice how much more he does now as a quarterback than he did last year (and) how much Faine allows him to take over the offense and call the protections," coach Raheem Morris said. "Really, he's at the point where (Faine) just corrects him."
NO-SHOWS: Among the missing for Monday's voluntary workout: LT Donald Penn, as expected, RB Derrick Ward and TE Kellen Winslow. Penn has been absent all offseason as a protest to his contract situation. He is unsigned despite being tendered a one-year offer as a restricted free agent.
Ward and Winslow have been involved in the offseason in previous weeks and are expected to return soon. RG Davin Joseph will sit out this week's workouts after having minor arthroscopic surgery, the details of which weren't divulged.
"I'll just reiterate that it's a voluntary deal," Morris said. "You never want to badmouth a guy for a voluntary workout."
NEW ROUTINE: With the high temperature hovering near 90 in Tampa on Monday, Morris implemented a practice schedule aimed at giving bulky linemen less time under the brutal sun.
"We were real excited to get some of the bigger guys in a little bit earlier, a little quicker to avoid some of those offseason IVs that are kind of unnecessary," he said.
The routine involved a modified schedule that allowed linemen to finish their onfield work nearly 30 minutes before the full squad.
ROSTER MOVES: Undrafted prospects Jeff Tow-Arnett (Minnesota) and Chris Mauriello (Penn State) signed Monday. Tow-Arnett, a center, and Mauriello, a long snapper, participated in rookie minicamp two weeks ago. WR Damola Adeniji was released.
Around the league
CUSHING REPORTS: Texans LB Brian Cushing was back on the field, glad to have a diversion from his recent problems.
The second-year player took part in the first offseason team practice after spending several days dealing with the fallout of his positive test for using a performance-enhancing drug. He will be suspended for the first four games of the season.
Cushing said it was good to be "thinking about something else" and that he was happy to be with his teammates. He said the reaction from them has been positive.
In other Texans news, Pro Bowl WR Andre Johnson, who is seeking a new contract, skipped the practice. He has five years left on an eight-year deal worth $60 million.
ROMO PASSES ON PUTTING: Cowboys QB Tony Romo was on the field for the first day of organized team activities instead of on the golf course trying to earn a spot in the PGA Tour's next tournament.
"There was really no decision there. For me, it was just this is what I love to do. Why would you not choose that?" he said.
Romo had a tee time in open qualifying for the Byron Nelson Championship, which begins Thursday just down the road from the team's practice facility in Irving, Texas. The 18-hole round conflicted with the voluntary Cowboys workout.
JAGUARS: Pro Bowl CB Rashean Mathis skipped practice to underscore his unhappiness with his contract. He has two years left on a $25.5 million, five-year extension.
JETS: QB Mark Sanchez threw some passes while participating in drills on a limited basis. Sanchez is recovering from surgery in February to stabilize the patella ligament in his left knee.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.