The Josh Freeman era could begin earlier than expected in Tampa Bay.
Quarterbacks coach Greg Olson said "it's not out of the question" that Freeman takes the path of the Falcons' Matt Ryan and the Ravens' Joe Flacco and starts as a rookie.
Olson said he met last week with general manager Mark Dominik, coach Raheem Morris, pro scouting coordinator Doug Williams and other coaches and decided they might need to accelerate Freeman's development.
"We did talk last week, and when I say we, I'm talking about everyone in the building from the GM, the head coach, Doug Williams -- other people were involved and we just discussed the Josh Freeman plan," Olson said. "We decided we'll go through the summer, we'll go probably a week into training camp and we'll revisit it again ... we may expedite what he's doing.
"You know, maybe we get him involved early -- earlier than we thought."
The plan has been not to rush Freeman into the lineup since the Bucs' 17th overall pick from Kansas State entered the draft as a junior. But neither McCown nor Leftwich have done enough to distinguish themselves in the offseason, even though they remain the leading contenders for the job. Meanwhile, Freeman has progressed steadily and is making better decisions with the football.
"Early when he first got here, he was forcing the football too much," Olson said. "If he can show he's progressing as far as the decision-making goes, then shoot, why not? He's comfortable in there, he throws a great ball, he's accurate and if he's not turning the ball over, then gosh, maybe he will be ready to play.
"He didn't seem nervous in the huddle at all last week and that was a great sign. He made some big throws as well."
Much of the decision will be based on how well the Bucs play around Freeman.
"That's a big part of why Joe Flacco had success last year," Olson said. "If you can put him in a system where he's got a good offensive line and he has a great weapon at tight end and he has some weapons at wide receiver and we have a good running game, then the quarterback doesn't have to shoulder as much. That's something we want to think about."
Freeman said he has approached the offseason with the mindset that he wants to play as soon as possible, but understands he has a lot to learn.
"I'm definitely a competitor and I want to play and win the job," Freeman said. "But at the same time, I understand that it's about winning football games. It all depends on how well I develop and right now I'm doing everything I can to get in that position to compete.
"It's not my decision as to whether or not I'm going to play. I'm just going to try and give them every reason to play me."
Bucs coach Raheem Morris, who was the defensive coordinator during Freeman's freshmen year, was asked if he would be surprised if Freeman won the starting job in training camp?
"You know it would be hard for me to say I would be surprised because of all the information I had on him coming in," Morris said. "It's no secret I was with him at Kansas State. I've seen his work ethic at Kansas State when he was a freshman and he wasn't a starter. What he tried to do, what he wanted to do, how he works -- things I knew about him that other people didn't. Nothing would surprise me with the kid. We want the kid to grow and mature as needed.
"We've got a national quarterback competition, there's no doubt about that. We're one of the few teams being talked about on NFL Network every night and it's fine, we enjoy it, we embrace it. And it's good that we talk about it. It means the rookie is doing something that we like. He's pushing the envelope. These guys are fighting with him.
"We'll continue to evaluate this thing throughout training camp. We'll continue to evaluate it throughout the season. We'll continue to evaluate it until Josh Freeman is ready to become our prototypical franchise quarterback."
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