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Martin Fennelly Columns

Ready or not, it's time for Freeman

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Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 04:32 PM

It's his team now.

Will it be his town?

It's all there for Josh Freeman.

More than a month ago, Bucs coach Raheem Morris professed devotion to Freeman.

"I'm married to him." Morris said.

It's time cross the threshold. We don't know who is going to carry who. And there might not even be a honeymoon.

It's time to begin to find out if Morris and General Manager Mark Dominik were right when they made Freeman their very first first-round pick.

I don't know if they even get a second first-round pick if the Bucs don't win a game this season. All bets are off if that happens.

Make no mistake: The coach and GM's future are directly linked to Josh Freeman. That oddball marriage comment might haunt Morris or it might not. Freeman's play will determine that.

This is the right call. You play the kid. You play him even if it means him running out in a creamsicle jersey for the Bucs' next game, the increasingly momentous throwback tilt with the Packers. You go with Freeman. You hope to grow with him, and that he grows, too.

It makes sense now, with the bye week, with no chance of turning this season around.

"It's time to see a little Josh Freeman," Morris said. "We set the schedule up a while ago. You come out and make the decision long before you go into the bye week what you're going to do. You make the decision of what you're going with whether you're 0-7 or 7-0."

They set the schedule up a while ago?

Yeah, way back in August, right before the dress rehearsal for the Jagodzinski firing.

So the fourth first-round quarterback drafted in Bucs history gets his chance.

The third first-round quarterback drafted in Bucs history says starting Freeman is a mistake. Trent Dilfer, the sixth overall pick in 1994, sees danger for Freeman.

"He can't be exposed to too much failure, because then the demons get out," said Dilly, now an ESPN analyst - and Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

Dilfer's first NFL start came as a Bucs rookie in 1994 at San Francisco. He completed seven of 23 passes for 45 yards in a 41-16 loss. He was replaced in the third quarter by Craig Erickson, who led the Bucs on their only two touchdown drives.

Bruce Gradkowski made a nice go of it in his first start as a rookie in 2006. Remember when? Shaun King's rookie season ended with him under center in an NFC title game.

Doug Williams, the first first-round quarterback drafted in Bucs history, had his shoulder separated in his first NFL start in 1978. Later that rookie season, the Rams' Fred Dryer hit Williams and broke his jaw. Williams' jaw was wired shut, he drank milkshakes to keep his strength and came back before the end of the season.

No one ever said it was going to be easy. And no one is saying it now.

Vinny Testaverde, the second first-round quarterback in Bucs history, had a spectacular debut in 1987 at New Orleans. He set an NFL record for rookie passing yardage with 369 yards and threw two touchdowns. The Bucs lost, 44-34. The next day, Testaverde said something that should resonate even today.

"They have to understand, it's not going to happen overnight," Vinny said. "There will be some games where it will be horrible, like a nightmare."

Is was true then and it's true now.

Still, the wait is over.

Release the demons! Start the nightmare!

Start the learning, too, on the job, here and now.

"It was definitely one of those things where I don't feel comfortable sitting on the sidelines," Freeman said. "I'm in my element when I'm out on the field."

The new starter does not lack for confidence. We remember the first time Josh Freeman spoke with media after becoming a Buc.

"When I'm done, I want to be regarded as one of the best to ever play the game," he said.

Before you're done, you have to start.

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