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Packers To Get First Look At Bucs QB Freeman


By the time Week 9 rolls around in an NFL season, an upcoming opponent's preseason game tapes are rarely requested, let alone needed.

But the Green Bay Packers have almost no choice but to hunt some down this week, with Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback Josh Freeman slated to make his first NFL start on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Freeman, a first-round draft pick out of Kansas State, has played in just one regular-season game thus far, coming in late for mop-up duty in a 35-7 loss two weeks ago to New England over in London. The 0-7 Buccaneers had their bye week after that, during which first-year head coach Raheem Morris announced Freeman would be his new starting quarterback, Tampa Bay's third in eight games this season.

"We're going to our future," Morris said in a conference call with Wisconsin media on Wednesday. "We drafted Josh to lead this franchise for the next five or 10 years. It's his time to go. In this game the quarterback is about wins, it's about trying to produce wins, and right now we don't have any. We're putting in Josh. He's ready."

To get ready for Freeman, the Packers probably will be watching more film of Tampa Bay's offensive scheme than of Freeman himself. He was just 2-for-4 passing for 16 yards with two sacks in his lone regular-season appearance.

His numbers in four preseason outings, including one start, weren't all that impressive either (22-of-49, 238 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 2 sacks), but where he did distinguish himself a bit from Tampa Bay's other quarterbacks - veteran Byron Leftwich started the season's first three games and second-year pro Josh Johnson the next four - was with his running ability.

The 6-foot-6, 248-pound Freeman had eight rushes for 75 yards in the preseason, including a 28-yard TD run against Jacksonville, showing that the mobility which helped produce 20 rushing touchdowns in college could carry over to this level.

"It's one of those things where I've been waiting a long time to get some regular-season action and been preparing," said Freeman, an early entry in the 2009 draft. "It's tough to say you're 100 percent ready for anything in this league, but I know I'm prepared."

Whether that translates into any success in his first NFL start will be seen come Sunday. He brings the element of the unknown into the matchup, but generally speaking a signal caller's lack of experience against NFL defenses works against him.

The last time the Packers faced a quarterback making his first NFL start was in 2006, when Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson came into Lambeau Field for a prime-time game on a rainy Thursday night in December.

Jackson is one of only four rookie quarterbacks to get his first start against the Packers in the last three decades, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The others were Detroit's Joey Harrington in 2002, Dallas' Steve Walsh in 1989 and New Orleans' Bobby Hebert in 1985.

All four games resulted in Green Bay wins, though two of them were close. Jackson's Vikings lost 9-7 on a late field goal, though Jackson himself (10-of-20, 50 yards, 1 INT) didn't lead the offense to any scores.

Harrington's Lions were even with the Packers at halftime and then rallied from a 17-point deficit to get within three points late before falling 37-31. Harrington (15-of-35, 182 yards) threw four interceptions but also had two TD tosses as the only one of these four rookie QBs to play the Packers on his home turf, as Freeman will.

All told, the four first-time starters posted collective numbers of 61 completions in 120 attempts (50.8 percent) for 611 yards with three TDs and six interceptions for a 53.2 rating.

{sportsad300}That illustrates just how tough first pro starts can be for quarterbacks, because no one in that group fared particularly well, yet only one of those Green Bay squads (2002) was a playoff outfit.

But Morris sounds ultra-confident in his quarterback, having seen him similarly step into the starting role midway through his freshman season at Kansas State in 2006. Morris was the defensive coordinator on that team and said what impressed him the most about Freeman then was his knowledge of the game for a young player.

"Now it's time to go out in the fire and give him an opportunity to go out and try to play," Morris said. "Here it comes."

Interestingly, Freeman has a couple of ties to the Green Bay franchise, one current and one historical. His favorite target during the 2007 season at Kansas State was second-year Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who set single-season school records for receptions (122) and yards (1,606) with Freeman throwing him the ball. Freeman said he and Nelson still stay in touch, though Nelson will miss the game against his former teammate due to a knee injury.

Also, in his three seasons at Kansas State, Freeman broke the school's career records for pass completions, attempts and yards all previously held by former Green Bay quarterback Lynn Dickey, who played in more than 100 games for the Packers (1976-77, '79-85).

Perhaps it's only fitting then that Freeman's first NFL start comes against the Packers. In any event, the Packers say they're ready for the big body, the strong arm, the scrambling ability, and anything else the rookie brings to the table.

"You don't know what he's going to do," safety Atari Bigby said. "You don't really know his capabilities. So you have to play him honest."

Honest, because that preseason film in all likelihood won't reveal a whole lot.

"They know more about him than we do," nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. "We don't know much about this guy. We just have to go out there and play fundamental football and just win."

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