Next Opponent: New QB for Bucs

Tampa Bay's first-round pick, Josh Freeman, will make his starting debut on Sunday vs. Green Bay. The Buccaneers are 0-7 and made the quarterback change during their bye week.

The Bucs wish Josh Freeman had gotten more work in the preseason.

Freeman was forced to sit and watch what turned out to be a meaningless battle for the starting job between Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown.

McCown was traded for a conditional sixth-round pick to the Jaguars and Leftwich was yanked from the lineup after an 0-3 start in favor of second-year pro Josh Johnson.

Now it's finally Freeman's turn. But unlike Leftwich and Johnson, the Bucs' 17th overall pick won't have to look over his shoulder.

The team plans to play Freeman — the former Kansas State teammate of Packers receiver Jordy Nelson — for the remainder of the season barring injuries.

How has Freeman looked in practice during the bye week?

"Exactly what he's been doing since we've had him out here. You won't know Josh, what he looks like, until he gets out there in game speed," coach Raheem Morris said. "He needs that under his belt. He's had these opportunities to run the offense. He's been in that fast-forward development ever since we had that opportunity to put him in that mold.

"He was always practicing as No. 2 even when he was listed as No. 3 on game day. So he's been a No. 2 practicing for a while and now he's practicing as No. 1 so he's getting the majority of the reps. He's just been doing the same thing he's been doing, getting better and better every day, progressing as well as we thought. Now we're going to give him some real tests and let him go out there and see some real bullets."

Coaches suggest that Freeman got a lot of work as the scout team quarterback and had begun to assert himself in the huddle. But after being named the starter for the Nov. 8 game against Green Bay, he has lost some of that swagger with the Bucs' first-team offense.

Freeman, who is 2-of-4 passing for 16 yards with two sacks and a fumble, is going to make mistakes. But if you're 0-7, ranked 28th in yards and points, and going nowhere with a young quarterback, better to do it with your first-round pick.

Good news

The Bucs' secondary has shown signs of life.

Second-year pro Aqib Talib has four interceptions and held DeSean Jackson and Steve Smith to one catch each. The Pats' Randy Moss wasn't much of a factor, for that matter.

Talib was burned on a few plays early in the season, including a game-winning TD catch by the Redskins Jason Campbell. Sadly, in many ways that was his best game with three interceptions.

The Bucs secondary has been helped by the return of safety Tanard Jackson from serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Jackson not only provides run support, but he is also a big hitter with good ball skills. He has two interceptions in three games, including one he returned for a score.

Bad news

The Bucs are searching for an identity on offense. They began the season by firing offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski 10 days before the opener. Jagodzinski was committed to a vertical passing game and zone blocking scheme.

Quarterbacks coach Greg Olson took over and implemented more West Coast philosophies. The Bucs' commitment to the running game has gone south as well. Free agent Derrick Ward has been frustrated and unproductive.

It's hard to run the football when you're 21 points behind and a lack of a pass rush is the culprit. Opponents can run the football, the way Carolina did for 262 yards. Or they can go upstairs. The Bucs have allowed nine passes of 40 yards or more this season.

Defensively, the Bucs don't have the players to run the scheme under Jim Bates, the Packers' former coordinator. The defensive line gets no penetration. The bump coverage rarely re-routes receivers.

Until the Bucs can stop the run consistently, teams are going to score a lot of points against them.

Four-point stance

— QB Josh Freeman took all the first-team reps during the bye week and excelled during 7-on-7 drills.

— WR Michael Clayton did not participate in practice during the bye week because of a sprained right wrist. Fellow WR Antonio Bryant is starting to fully recover from knee surgery and had two good days of practice. And WR Sammie Stroughter could see more playing time the second half of the season. Right now, he is the third wideout.

— DE Kyle Moore, the Bucs' fourth-round pick, could see his first action of the regular season against the Packers.

— PK Shane Andrus has yet to make a field goal this season.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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