TAMPA — Embattled quarterback Josh Freeman acknowledged Thursday that he overslept and missed a team photo session of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, but denied any suggestions of a frayed relationship with head coach Greg Schiano.
Freeman, in the final year of his rookie contract, was not named an offensive team captain in voting by the players a few days after the Sept. 2 photo shoot. He had held that distinction since his 2010 breakthrough season, when he led the Bucs to a 10-6 mark in his first full year as an NFL starter.
“I overslept, point blank,’’ said Freeman, who completed only 15 of 31 pass attempts during an 18-17 loss to the New York Jets in Week 1.
“I was talking to the guys the night before and just didn’t get up on time. The position of quarterback is a position of leadership and, obviously, missing a team photo is a big deal. It’s something I feel badly about. It’s upsetting, but at the same time, you’ve got to put it behind you because, like it or not, the Saints are coming to town.’’
Tampa Bay faces New Orleans in its home opener on Sunday.
According to Bucs coach Greg Schiano and guard Davin Joseph, Freeman has company when it comes to arriving late.
“It’s on every individual here to be on time for everything that you go to,’’ said Joseph, an offensive captain with wide receiver Vincent Jackson. “It’s on every individual here to do his job and I think Freeman does a (darn) good job of doing his job. When it comes to Freeman, I have no complaints.
“I’m happy he’s our quarterback, I wouldn’t take anyone else. Every situation has a story and all of us have done it. Have I been late? Yes. I’ve been late to a few things. But that doesn’t make you any less of a man that you’re late. It happens.’’
Freeman said he hasn’t struggled in dealing with the distractions of an uncertain contract status and recent stories implying friction between him and Schiano.
“Today got pretty hot, but we had one of our better practices of the year,’’ Freeman said. “I guess there’s a lot going on outside of this building, but inside these walls, we’re focused 100 percent on the Saints. I really like playing for Coach Schiano. He takes things to a personal level.
“It’s about camaraderie, brotherhood, family, trusting each other, believing in each other and accountability. It’s really refreshing. It’s fun playing for coach.’’
On Wednesday, the ProFootballTalk website published an un-sourced report suggesting concern about whether Schiano manipulated the votes for team captains was raised in a players-only meeting.
“I trust the players, and when the leadership of the team wants to talk amongst themselves, I think that’s healthy,’’ Schiano said. “I was not aware of any questioning on the captain’s vote, because there isn’t any.’’
Freeman confirmed the Bucs staged a players-only meeting in the days before the season opener, describing it as a free-wheeling discussion.
“It was a very good meeting,’’ he said. “It had nothing to do with panic ... it was all team bonding.’’
Long snapper Andrew Economos, an eight-year veteran and the longest tenured player on the team, called the meeting and said it was more of a “pep rally’’ than a gripe session.
“It was me and a few other guys that spoke and it was kind of a pep rally thing,’’ Economos said. “We’ve got a lot of talent in this room and we wanted to get it together. I’ve heard a few things that just came out through Twitter and stuff. The stuff that I saw was just kind of hearsay. There was nothing backing it, just people talking.
“That there was a players-only meeting was accurate, and obviously Josh missing the photo is accurate, but all that other stuff that got spun around is not.’’
Well before he took to the podium Thursday, Schiano knew he would face a barrage of questions about his relationship with Freeman.
“Josh and I are very close and we talk a lot,’’ Schiano said. “I think he’s preparing well. That’s all you can ask for as a coach. Certainly, there are things that disappoint. As a coach, you’ve got to make sure you don’t get caught up on the negative things because there are so many positive things.’’
Bucs wide receiver Mike Williams, who caught a touchdown pass from Freeman on Sunday, remains fully committed to Tampa Bay’s 25-year-old quarterback.
“People don’t know what they’re talking about,’’ Williams said, referring to Freeman’s skeptics. “That’s my quarterback and he’s going to be my quarterback as long as I’m here. Sometimes, people look at things and think it’s one person’s fault, but it’s a lot of things. I’m going to let them keep on criticizing Josh. I think it’s only going to make him better.’’