This was during the NFL lockout, and I couldn't help but admire how firmly the 23-year-old quarterback had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his grasp. He was throwing passes with one hand and arranging the next day's practice with his cell phone in his other hand.
Freeman even fielded a phone call from LeGarrette Blount, who was having trouble finding USF. Blount, then a Buccaneers running back, was headed for the Howard Frankland Bridge, which is about as far away as you can get from USF and still be in Tampa. Freeman ordered Blount to stop before getting on the bridge and firmly told him to try using Interstate 275 North to Fowler Avenue the next day.
At the time, Freeman was coming off a 2010 season in which he threw for 25 touchdowns and six interceptions and led the Bucs to a 10-6 record. It appeared the Buccaneers had a franchise quarterback for the first time in franchise history.
That's why I can't help but wonder where that Freeman has gone.
Let's flash forward to Thursday. Reports were flying that Freeman missed the team's annual photo; other players suspected coach Greg Schiano had manipulated the vote to keep the quarterback from being a captain; and the team had a players-only meeting to discuss the voting.
Two out of three were (somewhat) wrong. Schiano emphatically denied rigging the vote, and multiple players said topic did not come up in a meeting. But the players did have a meeting, which veteran long-snapper Andrew Economos said was basically a pep rally to start the season.
So the only smoke that came with fire was that Freeman missed the team photo. He said he overslept, which makes you wonder if the Bucs need to bring back the guy they used to pay to make sure Blount got to practice on time.
The Bucs and Freeman did their best to throw water on the situation.
They need more water, because not everything looks right with this picture.
"The position of quarterback is a position of leadership," Freeman said. "Obviously, missing the team photo is a big deal. ... It's something I feel badly about and it's obviously upsetting. But, at the same time, you've got to put it behind you and continue to play because, like it or not, the Saints are coming to town."
You can't ignore all the other signs that something is off kilter with a guy who once seemed to be the most balanced individual inside One Buccaneer Place. And I'm not just talking about Freeman's dismal performance in the season-opening loss to the New York Jets.
I'm talking about the fact that Freeman looked equally dismal throughout the preseason and late last season, when he had consecutive four-interception games in December. I'm talking about the fact the Bucs decided not to sign Freeman to a long-term contract extension. I'm talking about the repeated rumblings that Freeman and Schiano don't see eye to eye.
"I do trust Josh," Schiano said. "Josh and I share a lot of things together."
"I really like playing for Coach Schiano," Freeman said.
Yeah, that all sounds nice. But I couldn't help but notice the painting on the Himes Avenue corner of Raymond James Stadium as I drove by earlier in the day and pondered the irony.
Are Freeman and Schiano enemies? Are they at odds?
They say they're not.
"It may be an issue outside this building," Schiano said. "It's not an issue inside this building."
Freeman said basically the same thing.
But still I wonder what happened to that calm, cool quarterback from that day back at the University of South Florida.
As Freeman stood at a podium on Thursday and went through an interview session that was more like an interrogation, he, seemingly, was sweating.
Maybe Freeman puts it all together against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and Freeman, Schiano and the Bucs live happily ever after.
Or maybe Freeman has another lackluster game and the smoke just continues to get thicker.