TAMPA — Raheem Morris calls himself a thief because he steals from every coach he has ever worked with.
But nobody has influenced Morris more than Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. And Morris was close enough to the sideline to catch some confetti in February when Pittsburgh defeated the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium.
That's why he wants a more physical, tougher team that can practice in pads for 16 weeks. It's also why he might want to draft Kansas State QB Josh Freeman.
Last week, Morris compared Freeman to the Steelers' two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
"I was with him for a year," said Morris, Kansas State defensive coordinator in 2006. "Absolute specimen to look at. Physical. Tall, big. Big arm. Deceptively quick, even though the 40 time says 4.8, he's got that Ben Roethlisberger effect where he's hard to tackle once you get back there, so you'd better send somebody blitzing big enough to get him on the ground."
The 6-foot-6, 248-pound Freeman, who decided to forgo his senior season, had modest success. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was 44-34, and he posted a 14-18 record as a starter.
"When I was there when he was a freshman, we had (wide receivers) Jordy Nelson and Yamon Figurs — two pretty good players playing in this league," Morris said. "He started probably Week 5 and had a big-time game over Oklahoma State, where he won a game. Had a big-time game against Texas where he helped us win that game. He was starting to come into his own when I left. All I know is he put up big-time numbers, not big-time win production and that's a major factor for a quarterback. Whenever you're drafting a quarterback, you want to make sure he's a winner."
Freeman, 21, could be long gone by the time the Bucs make the 19th overall selection. And be skeptical when a team speaks so glowingly about any player this time of year. The last thing it wants is to be linked to the guy it plans to take, unless it owns the No. 1 overall pick.
But Morris knows if he is ever going to draft a franchise quarterback, sooner is better than later. He has a two-year contract with a club option for the third season.
With Luke McCown and Josh Johnson battling it out, Freeman could spend a year on the bench developing.
"All the guys in free agency are unproven as well," Morris said. "You're talking about the same guys we have in-house already. You're talking about a guy you've seen something in maybe coming out of the draft. Maybe you predict a little bit. You're talking about drafting a guy, you're really doing the same thing. You're talking about a guy who's going to be unproven, you've got to teach some stuff and let him grow and develop. It's all the same deal."
The Bucs will monitor the Jay Cutler situation, and there's a chance the Broncos could trade him closer to draft day. Short of that, the Bucs will wait to see which veterans might get whacked after the draft.
"You're just looking for the most competitive guy, the one that's going to come in and create the most competition whether he's the Day 1 starter or whether he's a Week 6 or Week 16 starter," Morris said.
BARBER SHOP TALK: If you're wondering why Ronde Barber, who turns 34 on April 7, wasn't part of the veteran purge that included Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn, Morris provided this explanation: "He's staying because he touches the ball and he scores touchdowns. I don't know any other corner in this league who has scored more touchdowns than Ronde Barber. I've seen him do it in bump, I've seen him do it in Cover 2. … I've seen him blitz. I've seen him rush the quarterback. I think he's the only 20/20 (sacks/interceptions) guy, I'm not sure (He is, 23/37). … At the end of the season, we had two guys lead the team in picks. One was Ronde and the other was Aqib (Talib). Two ends of the spectrum. So that's why Ronde's here."
WELCOME TO NFL: Pinch-me time ended pretty quickly after Morris, 32, was named coach. "The first day is the honeymoon, the press conference. Everybody loves you," he said. "The second day you've got to fire and hire coaches. That sets in, especially for me. Those guys are my friends. Those guys are guys I respect in coaching and you've got to make decisions. Day 2 was a tough one. The day you have to make decisions on your players was a tough one. And then the last thing, which was a good changeover, was your first meeting in the offseason program … you set the standard and you do it with everybody sitting there. That was the change, that was the turnover, that was the moment."
no futbol: In a 30-minute interview last week that provided lots of opportunities to discuss a certain soccer club, co-chairman Joel Glazer managed to avoid the words "Manchester United.''