Josh Freeman plans to play in opener

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman practiced for the first time since breaking the thumb on his throwing hand and expects to play in the Buccaneers' season opener against the Cleveland Browns.

The second-year pro missed the last two weeks of the preseason after banging his right thumb on the helmet of a pass rusher during an exhibition against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 21. The Bucs were confident all along that he would return before the start of the regular season.

"He looked great being back with this football team. He went through a whole practice," coach Raheem Morris said after Tuesday's workout. "We look forward to him progressing and getting better and better, and getting back to what he was doing before he went out."

Freeman did not wear a bandage or protective splint on the thumb.

"We're going to try different things out this week. Right now, I'm going without any wraps or anything. ... We talked about a glove, but I feel more comfortable with just bare hands," the 22-year-old said.

Freeman was the third quarterback selected in the 2009 draft behind Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez. He started nine games as a rookie, going 3-6 after the Bucs opened 0-7 with Byron Leftwich and Josh Johnson running the offense.

Morris and offensive coordinator Greg Olson said they are not concerned the 6-foot-6, 248-pound Freeman only attempted eight passes during the preseason.

The young quarterback felt fine after testing his thumb throwing the ball before last week's preseason finale at Houston. And, he didn't report any problems after his first full practice in nearly three weeks Tuesday.

"We think he's on schedule," Olson said. "It's a little sore, but he felt good."

Freeman said the thumb is "a little swollen, but nowhere near as bad as right after it first happened." He doesn't anticipate having difficulty handling snaps from center and insisted he doesn't fear reinjuring the hand.

"I won't be thinking about it," Freeman said, adding that he's confident he'll be able to play with any pain associated with the thumb.

"It's just getting a feel for it and knowing my limitations. ... But it's geting better. It's been improving every day. ... It won't be bad. It's playing football. I'm going to get tackled. I'm going to hit the ground, probably run into a few people."

Morris stressed that Freeman took all the snaps he normally would handle as a starting quarterback, with Johnson taking the few allotted to backups.

And what would it take to keep Freeman from starting Sunday's opener?

"Not my thumb," the quarterback said. "It would have to be something outside of that. ... I expect to play and be fine."