New Orleans QB Drew Brees spent time mentoring Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman last summer.
Brees might want to spend this summer picking Freeman's brain.
Freeman doesn't have Brees' NFL résumé, but he has better statistics than his tutor this season. It is a trend Freeman hopes to continue as Tampa Bay (9-6) plays against New Orleans (10-4) on the road this Sunday.
Freeman has fewer touchdown passes, 23 to Brees' 32, but also fewer interceptions, six to Brees' 21. Freeman's last interception was four games ago, against Atlanta.
In addition, Freeman's passer rating is 93.6 compared to Brees at 92.2. Freeman's passer rating also is higher than Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning (91.4), who has 17 interceptions and 31 touchdowns this season.
"It's just a constant awareness of ball security and also just having a whole offseason to get the majority of the reps to get used to the system," Freeman said. "Every year I try to improve, and from Year One to Year Two I feel like I've made pretty good strides. I feel like I can continue to get better.
"There are still some interceptions, ones you wish you could have back, because you really shouldn't have thrown it. If I can find a way to go out and correct that in the future, I feel like I can be pretty good."
Freeman is already first-rate against the blitz.
According to ESPN.com, Freeman is the sixth-ranked quarterback against the blitz with a 98.9 passer rating. He has completed 98 of 164 passes (59.8 percent) for 1,389 yards and 12 touchdowns with 16 sacks and five interceptions.
Freeman also has excelled in the fourth quarter. His passer rating of 96.4 is eighth in the NFL, while Brees is 20th (82.5).
"He's just a locked-in guy. He's focused," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said of Freeman. "He knows that we try to keep possession of the football. He knows for our team it's about scoring and getting the ball back for him so he can maintain possession, go out there and accumulate points to have the ability to win.
"That's how we play our game, that's how he plays it for us, and that's how he's leading this football team right now. He's done a great job."
No offense taken
Bucs players were recently shut out of the Pro Bowl, leaving RB LeGarrette Blount and WR Mike Williams as the team's biggest hopes for postseason honors. Blount and Williams lead all rookies in yards this year, but Morris did not believe it would be a "slap in the face" if neither were recognized.
"You got to go out and earn those things," Morris said. "I didn't see it as a slap in the face when they thought I was too young to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I didn't see it as a slap in the face when we went 3-13 and (reporters) were giving my job to (Bill) Cowher. None of those things are slaps in the face.
"It's all our business; it's the entertainment business. We have fun. We got to earn our respect and hopefully we can and will."
Graham says he is OK
FB Earnest Graham said there is no reason to be worried about him, even though he is wearing a neck brace.
Graham injured his neck against Seattle and was on the ground for several minutes before walking off the field. He did not return and walked around at practice Wednesday in a neck brace and street clothes.
Graham, however, said he has only a "neck strain" and does not believe his injury is career threatening. Graham will not play against New Orleans on Sunday.
"The brace is more precautionary than anything," Graham said. "I'm happy because things could have been a lot worst."
Erik Lorig will start at fullback in Graham's place Sunday.
Bucs T James Lee (ankle), WR Sammie Stroughter (hamstring) and TE Kellen Winslow (knee) fully participated in Thursday's practice.