Commentary

Josh Freeman's ready to defy skeptics

Second-year QB, a "veteran" on a green crew, sees brighter days ahead for Bucs

Originally Published: August 13, 2010
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- There's quite the contradiction here, one that defies Florida's trends.

Older people usually flock to Florida. Younger players flock to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay's 80-man roster includes only seven players who are 30 or older, and only three of those -- cornerback Ronde Barber (35), fullback Earnest Graham (30) and defensive end Stylez G. White (31) -- can be counted on as starters. The rest of the Buccaneers barely are shaving, if they shave at all.

Youth is everywhere on this roster. Rookie first-round pick Gerald McCoy is starting at defensive tackle. Rookie second-round pick Brian Price is expected to play a prominent role at defensive tackle once he returns from his strained hamstring. Rookie second-round pick Arrelious Benn will play a prominent role at wide receiver if he doesn't win a starting job before the season is through. Rookie third-round pick Myron Lewis will be the Buccaneers' nickel back. Rookie fourth-round pick Mike Williams will start at wide receiver in Saturday night's preseason opener at the Miami Dolphins. Rookie sixth-round pick Brent Bowden will be the Buccaneers' punter. And rookie seventh-round pick Cody Grimm -- son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Russ Grimm -- will make the team for his instincts and special-teams play.

And that doesn't include second-year quarterback Josh Freeman, at the age of 22, being the leader of this team, which finished 3-13 in 2009.

Told that many people around the league believe they're too young to compete, Freeman said: "It's not true, not true. I mean you can look back to last year towards the end of the year where we kind of started getting into a rhythm as a team both offensively and defensively. I mean we won some games, we were able to play with people and I'm looking to pick up where we left off last year with a few additions."

McCoy listened to Freeman's comments, and had his own thoughts for the doubters.

"I love it, I love it," McCoy said. "Let 'em think we're too young … I'm gonna leave it at that. Just everybody keep thinkin' we're too young."

Other observations from Buccaneers camp:

• Aside from McCoy, the rookie who has shined most this summer is Williams. The former Syracuse star will start the Buccaneers' preseason opener not just because he's good, but because he already is the best receiver on Tampa Bay's roster. The Buccaneers believe he has star written all over him.

[+] EnlargeMike Williams
Kim Klement-US PresswireRookie WR Mike Williams is turning heads with his play.

• Either former first-round pick Michael Clayton or veteran Reggie Brown will not make the Buccaneers' 53-man roster. One of them will have to go. There's just not room for both receivers, not with the talent that Tampa has accumulated at the position.

• Few players in the league have more heart than running back Cadillac Williams, who has battled back from two devastating knee injuries. Cadillac Williams might not have the burst he once did, but he's still the Buccaneers' best back. As defenders have already known for years, he is one tough hombre to bring down.

• Each team has training camp surprises, players that start the season as unknowns and finish it up well known. Buccaneers running back Kareem Huggins has the chance to be that player for the Buccaneers. After spending last season on Tampa Bay's practice squad, Huggins has the potential to be a dependable weapon on this year's roster. Huggins will make the team and be a significant contributor.

• If the Buccaneers have a noticeable weakness, it's the pass rush. They will need White to get good pressure on the quarterback, and they'll need last year's fourth-round pick Kyle Moore to elevate his game. But it will not surprise anyone if, next April, the Buccaneers use their top pick on an end to play next to McCoy.

• Anyone who has any questions about Freeman's dedication needed only to be at the Buccaneers' training facility in early July, when most players and NFL employees were on vacation. Out on the practice field, Freeman was spotted throwing passes to tight end Kellen Winslow. Football is Freeman's first, and really only, love. The Buccaneers love his work ethic and his accuracy is notable, too. Last season, Freeman had a higher completion percentage (54.5 percent) than the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford (53.3) and the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez (53.8), the two quarterbacks drafted ahead of him.

• Don't see why people around the league are down on the Buccaneers. Guard Davin Joseph, left tackle Donald Penn, Winslow, McCoy, linebacker Barrett Ruud, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Tanard Jackson are building blocks. And Freeman and Mike Williams might be. If they are, this team will be more competitive than people realize.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.