Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Freeman the talk of the town
TAMPA - He was No. 1 on the Bucs' draft board and he'll probably be No. 1 in your game day program as well. As for being No. 1 in your hearts, well, Josh Freeman has a ways to go there. Two days after his selection by the Bucs was roundly booed by a crowd of fans attending a draft-day watch party at Raymond James Stadium, the former Kansas State quarterback arrived in Tampa on Monday as perhaps the most vilified first-round draft pick in franchise history. Angry fans calling into local sports talk radio shows and blogging on the Internet spent the day bashing Freeman and the Bucs' decision to trade up two spots in the first round to get him. But Freeman stood strong amid the storm of criticism, in part because he saw it coming. "I anticipated it," Freeman said. "You know, being from Kansas State and not getting that much national exposure. The same thing happened to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when he was drafted. Everyone was like, 'Roethlis-who?'"We didn't have the national spotlight on us all the time and we didn't win as many games as the other guys, so I expected a little bit of this. But I hear the fans here are great and that they respond to winning. So, if I go out and do well, they'll have no complaints then." It's interesting that Freeman compared himself to Roethlisberger, who has led the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles since being drafted 11th overall out of Miami of Ohio five years ago. A lot of NFL scouts have made the same comparisons. Both Roethlisberger and Freeman have ideal NFL size and arm strength, the scouts say, and both have the ability to shed tacklers in the pocket, move around in space and make plays when everything around them is breaking down. Despite those traits, many still seem skeptical of Freeman. His record at Kansas State is one reason. The Wildcats were 17-20 and had just one winning season during Freeman's three-year run as their starting quarterback. His completion percentage is another. In three years as a starter, Freeman completed more than 60 percent of his passes just once, during his sophomore season. Most quarterbacks who fail to complete more than 60 percent of their passes in their final year of college also fail to make it big in the NFL. Freeman completed 58.6 percent last season as a junior but seems unswayed. "It's not about what people are saying, it's about the attitude you carry into the office every day and your willingness to work," he said. "A great example is Donovan McNabb last year. "They were ready to bench him and then he comes back and wins six of the next seven games and takes them to the NFC Championship Game. So it's all about the attitude and listening to the right people." So much is being said that Freeman can't help but hear some of it. He admits, though, a lot of the criticism leveled against him has made him laugh. "I've heard a lot of things: 'Freeman's not accurate; Freeman is not a leader,'" he said. "There was one point in this process where somebody said I had character issues, that I'd been in trouble in school, and that's just not the case at all. I try to walk the straight and narrow as much as I can. "But, obviously, I've heard all sorts of things. I really don't buy into it. I know who I am. And the people who need to know who I am know who I am. Let's go to work. As for the other stuff, a lot of it is stuff people couldn't possibly know." One thing Freeman doesn't know is when exactly he'll take the reins of the Bucs offense and get a chance to truly prove his critics wrong. He says he'd love to start right away but also sees the benefits of waiting a year or more and learning from the sidelines. "All I know is that I'm going to do everything in my power to make the Buccaneers a better football team," Freeman said. "Whether that's through playing this year, not playing this year, or playing a couple of years down the road. Whatever it takes. Whatever helps this team win, I'm ready to do."
Reporter Roy Cummings can be reached at (813) 259-7979.