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Sunday, Nov 19, 2017
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Bucs wondering which No. 5 is the real Josh

TAMPA - Raheem Morris is in trouble. He's in a flat spin headed out to sea (I got that from "Top Gun"). By the way, scratch Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano while you're at it. But Morris still believes in his quarterback. Do you? It's impossible to not give Josh Freeman high marks for toughness after Sunday in Jacksonville. But there's no way around it being one of the worst losses in recent Bucs history, and his fingerprints were all over it along with his bad shoulder print. So, where does he stand?
We're at the point, near the end of his second full NFL season, when we're beginning to wonder if this is the learning curve or a step back. It looks like the latter. Freeman has been bad enough this season for us to openly wonder which season was the aberration. Is it this season, which has seen Freeman go 4-8 as a starter with 12 touchdown passes and a whopping 18 interceptions? Or was it last season, when he led comeback after comeback, went 10-6, and threw 25 touchdowns against only six picks? Which is the real Josh? The answer must lie somewhere in between, and it had better, because if this is the real Freeman, the Bucs need to fold the tent, and not just on this year. No. 5 was what it was all about the day Freeman was drafted. Morris and GM Mark Dominik staked a lot on Freeman, knowing they'd rise and fall with him. Right now, they're falling. The Bucs have put too much on Freeman, that much is clear. They expected him to cover up for their lack of activity in the offseason. Yeah, Josh would come through in the end. It was too much. He doesn't have enough help around him. But he hasn't adjusted as well as defenses have adjusted to him. They've dared him to be a pocket passer, and the results have to be a concern for the Bucs. If 5 isn't the guy, then this team doesn't have a chance, ever. His future and his talents were such givens before this season. It was about the Bucs defense keeping up with him, or Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount following up on their rookie seasons to make 5 that much more alive. We didn't see this coming. Now we even wonder if Freeman's head is screwed on totally correctly after the thumb jam at the gun range. Is Josh Freeman on target to be The Man or just a guy? Morris thinks Freeman is going to bounce back from this in a big way, learn from it. "No doubt about it," Morris said. "You've got to go out there and learn from adversity. Ask Phillip Rivers. He's one of the better quarterbacks in this league and he's getting absolutely crushed this year. But I still don't want to play him." As for Freeman, Morris said, "He's going learn through adversity, he's going to come out with a little more fire. This is going to do nothing but add to our offseason. It's going to help me. It's going to help me get guys together." Yeah, Freeman's bust-o season has been a huge help … Not really. But Morris points to the leaning curve. He's right in one sense. Freeman's upside is still so very high. Then again, at this point there might be nowhere to go but up. It's all about making strides. Or hitting one. "And he hasn't hit it yet," Morris said. But what if this is Josh Freeman's real stride? Go on, Bucs fans, worry some more.
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