As a two-time NFL comeback player of the year, Chad Pennington knows a few things about the ups and downs of playing quarterback at the pro level.
Despite the 2011 struggles of Josh Freeman heading into Saturday night's matchup against the Cowboys, Pennington believes the 23-year-old quarterback of the Bucs will rebound and emerge as an elite player.
"I like Josh Freeman a lot because I like the way he thinks,'' said Pennington, who worked Sunday's Bucs-Jaguars game as a Fox analyst. "I like his mindset and, to me, that's where it all starts. He sees the big perspective of what his job is, and this adversity has provided an opportunity for him to lead.''
Pennington was the NFL's top-rated passer in 2002, his first season as a starter, but he slumped the next year. He finished his 11-year career with the highest completion rate (66.0 percent) in league history.
"People don't understand how hard it is to be a consistent quarterback in this league,'' Pennington said. "In the offseason, your opponents are studying you like you've never been studied before. The lack of an offseason really hurt a Josh Freeman. That's where you make mistakes on the practice field — where nobody knows. Now, he's making them during the season, when it counts.''
Like Pennington, ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski hasn't lost any faith in Freeman's future.
"Josh has taken a step back this year, but quarterbacks usually get too much credit and too much blame,'' said Jaworski, a former Pro Bowl quarterback with the Eagles. "He's having to play too often from behind, his receivers aren't doing a great job of getting open and Tampa Bay's run game is inconsistent.
"I am still a firm believer in the guy. He's going to be one of the great quarterbacks in this league. There's an ebb and flow in every quarterback's career, and Josh Freeman will get over this.''
Responding to growing speculation about his job security as Tampa Bay's head coach, Raheem Morris talked up his mental toughness Thursday in the face of a seven-game losing streak that has created "a cloud outside the organization.''
The Bucs were 4-2 before a prolonged tailspin dropped them to the bottom of the NFC South, one year removed from a 10-6 record with the youngest team in the league.
Morris, 17-28 overall, was asked about a recent statement made by ESPN's John Clayton suggesting Morris was almost dismissed Monday, the day after a 41-14 loss at Jacksonville.
"I'm probably the most mentally tough person you could ever be around,'' Morris said. "I don't usually comment on speculation. If you don't feel like you're working for your job every day, you're probably not doing your job.''
Several Tampa Bay players have come out recently in support of Morris, the former Bucs secondary coach who replaced Jon Gruden after the 2008 season.
"My guys support me through wins, losses … whatever,'' Morris said. "These guys are awesome. I know there's a cloud outside the organization, but when you come into this building, there's a bunch of rays of sunshine. We do our best to keep the rain away.''
Although the Bucs are tied with the Eagles for the NFL lead with 31 turnovers and Tampa Bay's 108 penalties are third-most in the league, Morris defended his coaching staff.
"It's pretty much the same staff that went out there and won 10 games and everybody loved us,'' he said. "This year, we're not having the same success. Obviously, it starts with the coaches and then goes to players and management. That's how it works in this business. For those who are given a lot, a lot is expected. It's just the nature of the beast we live in.''
Bucs CB Aqib Talib (hamstring) didn't practice but is expected to play against Dallas. WR Arrelious Benn suffered a mild concussion against the Jaguars and didn't participate in Thursday's practice, Morris said. … Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware, who leads all NFL players with 60.5 sacks in the past four seasons, will be looking for his first career takedown in four starts against the Bucs. … Tony Romo of the Cowboys has thrown 10 touchdown passes on third down, tied with Drew Brees for second in the league behind the Giants' Eli Manning.