If Freeman is ready, start him in pewter and red

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rolled out their history Friday morning. Hopefully, they were taking notes and thinking of Josh Freeman.

He's their future and maybe even their present. Keep that in mind as we recap the show the Bucs put on in their auditorium at the sparkling palace that is One Buccaneer Place.

It was short and sweet -- a press conference to announce that the Bucs would wear their orange jerseys from 1976 as part of a throwback promotion for the Nov. 8 game against Green Bay. They had current players Antonio Bryant, Gaines Adams, Barrett Ruud and Earnest Graham walk out on stage as models. They also showed a video of the early years of the Bucs. Understandably, it was very brief.

But there was one shining moment in the video. It came as No. 12 flashed by a couple of times.

That's Doug Williams, the only true franchise quarterback in Bucs history. Let's remember that because it relates directly to Freeman.

A lot of people prefer to forget the early Bucs years, when the team lost its first 26 games and was headquartered at a bunker right off an airport runway. So why bring out the orange and white -- even as a ceremonial gesture -- when the pewter has worked pretty well the last dozen years?

"The answer is simple,'' Bucs co-chairman Ed Glazer said. "This is our history. This is where it all started.''

Truly, it started in 1978 when the Bucs drafted Williams out of Grambling in the first round. Former owner Hugh Culverhouse told Williams he'd have to start off as a backup and earn his job as he handed the quarterback a contract that was below standards even at the time.

Then, coach John McKay turned around and handed Williams the starting job. Throwing Williams to the wolves worked. The Bucs came darn close to getting to the Super Bowl the next season.

That's the lesson. You don't have to coddle a franchise quarterback.

Even though the Bucs have talked a lot about bringing Freeman along slowly, maybe that's not a formula for success. Stick with the history here. Coddling didn't work the other two times the Bucs thought they were getting a franchise quarterback.

Say what you want about Vinny Testaverde and Trent Dilfer. They both did some good things later in their careers. But neither turned out to be the savior the Bucs thought they were getting when the quarterbacks were drafted.

In 1987, Ray Perkins drafted Testaverde with the top overall pick and elected to sit him behind Steve DeBerg. In 1994, Sam Wyche selected Dilfer and followed a plan to play him behind Craig Erickson. What did the Bucs get from going with DeBerg and Erickson when it was common knowledge that they were only there for the short term?

Only a bunch of losses. It's nice to think long term and believe that a quarterback can gain more by sitting safely on the bench. But I'm not sure Testaverde and Dilfer benefitted from that and I know the Bucs didn't.

That's all part of what Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik need to decide as they ponder the plan for Freeman over the next few weeks. They've got Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich as alternatives.

Both have some experience. Both have some skills. But is McCown any different from Erickson? Is Leftwich any different than DeBerg?

No, they all are -- and were -- just "guys."

Morris and Dominik just invested $26 million (maybe as much as $36 million) in Freeman because they believe he's more than a "guy." Freeman was looking awfully good by the end of June workouts and he stuck around One Buc Place for much of the time his teammates were off.

"I'm going to try to give them every reason I can to start me," Freeman said as he checked into camp Friday morning.

That is going to be up to Freeman as the Bucs begin practice Saturday morning. Although the decision to draft Freeman was booed by Bucs' fans in April, there are some reasons to believe he can succeed -- and do so quickly.

He has the arm and the size and he seems to have the charisma of a franchise quarterback. He may be a little unpolished after coming out of Kansas State a year early. But there are general managers and coaches around the league who will tell you they thought more highly of Freeman than they did of Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, the first two quarterbacks taken in this year's draft.

Morris, who spent a year coaching at Kansas State, and Dominik fall firmly into that category. They traded up a few spots to grab Freeman at No. 18 because they believed someone else would beat them to the punch.

So why turn around and sit him?

Especially when you've got a good offensive line, solid running backs in Derrick Ward and Graham, and targets like Bryant and Kellen Winslow. Perkins and Wyche didn't have luxuries like that when they sat Testaverde and Dilfer. Heck, McKay didn't have an offense like that (although the Bucs were pretty good on defense) when he tossed Williams out there and it worked.

If Freeman shows much of anything in camp and the preseason, just start him.

There's a school of thought among some fans that the Bucs will open with McCown or Leftwich. Maybe they go about halfway through the season and then hand it off to Freeman. It makes plenty of sense because they play an Oct. 25 game in London against the Patriots. After that, they have a bye week followed by the unfreezing of the Creamsicles against Green Bay.

You just might see Freeman making his starting debut in orange and white. Then again, why not Week 1 against Dallas in pewter and red?