TAMPA — Donald Penn remains friends with Josh Freeman. He just doesn't want to talk about him anymore.
Tampa Bay's veteran left tackle welcomed questions at his locker Wednesday until the conversation quickly turned to the ongoing saga between the Bucs and their embattled 25-year-old quarterback.
“The media, the media, y'all, trying to find every way to tarnish his character and make Josh seem like he's not a good guy ... like this is all his fault,'' Penn said, addressing a horde of TV and print reporters. “That's y'all reporting this stuff. The Freeman stuff is getting old. It's over. I'm tired of talking about it.''
Freeman was on the field Wednesday as the 0-4 Bucs practiced for the final time before returning Monday from their early bye week, coach Greg Schiano said.
Freeman was benched in favor of rookie Mike Glennon, who threw a pair of late interceptions in his NFL debut last week as Tampa Bay dropped a 13-10 decision to Arizona.
According to Schiano, GM Mark Dominik is attempting to accommodate Freeman's desire to be traded.
“Just because this may not be the place for Josh doesn't mean his career is over,'' said G Davin Joseph, Tampa Bay's union player rep. “He has all the tools in the toolbox and it's all about finding the right fit. He's worked his tail off here. It's not uncomfortable right now. It's going to be uncomfortable if there's a point where he's no longer here. Tampa Bay and Josh Freeman are like rice and beans, almost.''
While fans and players alike are stunned by an 0-4 start, the Bucs realize the other 31 teams in the league have no sympathy for Tampa Bay's plight.
The Bucs opened 1-3 in 2012 before a 5-1 stretch following the bye week vaulted them in contention for an NFC playoff berth.
“We're going to keep our heads up because a lot of these guys have a lot of self-pride,'' rookie CB Johnthan Banks said. “I've got a lot of pride. I don't want to go out there and lose to anybody, so I'm going to compete every week. We've put too much into it to go out and keep our heads down.''
Three of Tampa Bay's September setbacks came by a combined margin of six points, giving the Bucs reason to believe they are close to achieving scoreboard success.
“We just need to finish,'' second-year OLB Lavonte David said. “Someway, somehow, we've just got to dig deep and find a way to try and put games like (Arizona) away.''
It's important for Buc players to realize they still control their own destiny, Joseph said.
“There have been a lot of positives in the last month,'' he said. “I think we're going in the right direction. The coach has stepped it up a lot. You see him challenging himself and players stepping up and leading. It's easy to just tank it right now and say we're 0-4, we're not going to make the playoffs, there's not much to play for. But I think we've got the right kind of guys here.''
The Bucs on Wednesday filled the hole at safety that was created by the release of Ahmad Black by claiming second-year pro Kelcie McCray off waivers from the Miami Dolphins. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound McCray is an Arkansas State product who came to the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2012. He spent all of last season on injured reserve and played four games for Miami this year.
TE Tom Crabtree, signed as a free agent from Green Bay, said Wednesday he hasn't suffered any setbacks as he attempts to return from a high left ankle sprain. Crabtree plans on making his regular-season debut on Oct. 13, when Tampa Bay faces Philadelphia at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs will capitalize on the bye week by scheduling a full practice when players return to the facility on Monday. ...WR Tiquan Underwood, just re-signed by Tampa Bay, plans to remain in town Thursday to work on his timing with Glennon. ...Through the first quarter of the season, Bucs opponents are scoring only 17.5 points per game, compared to an average of 24.6 points for all of 2012.