Although Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman continues to be limited in practice, his injured right shoulder showed progress Friday.
His availability for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium will be a game-time decision, coach Raheem Morris said.
Freeman hurt his shoulder on the final offensive play of Sunday's 23-17 loss at Tennessee after he bobbled a snap on fourth down. He threw lightly on Friday and backup Josh Johnson continued to take most of the reps heading into Sunday's home matchup.
"We'll take it right up to the moment of truth,'' Morris said of Freeman, who hasn't missed a start since becoming Tampa Bay's No. 1 quarterback midway through his 2009 rookie season. "Josh Freeman went out and threw the ball around a little bit today, but he's still limited. Obviously, there was progress. He threw a little bit yesterday and a little more today.''
Morris indicated he would take a cautious approach about dressing Freeman as the Bucs attempt to end a five-game losing streak.
"Obviously, you don't want to do anything that's going to hurt him,'' Morris said. "We've got very capable doctors and they'll inform me if he can do any further damage.''
Knowing Freeman wants to play, Morris said his 23-year-old quarterback won't have much of a say in the final decision.
"Everybody wants to be Brett (Favre),'' Morris said of the former NFL quarterback who reeled off a record streak of 297 consecutive starts. "Brett set a great example for all these young quarterbacks. We'll go with the eyeball test and we'll talk to our doctors to evaluate what Josh can do and can't do.''
In talking up his tight end duo of Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, Panthers rookie QB Cam Newton may have inadvertently provided Tampa Bay's defense with some extra motivation.
Carolina acquired Olsen in a trade with Chicago and Shockey through free agency this summer. Through 11 games, they have combined for 67 catches and five touchdowns, working the middle of the field effectively while opening up room on the flanks for big-play WR Steve Smith.
"It's all about comfort in this league,'' Newton said, "and having guys to throw to with excellent skill sets beings about comfort. Tampa Bay likes to play man to man and it's a mismatch, in our opinion, with our tight ends on whoever they match them up with.''
Two weeks after shutting down Pro Bowl WR Greg Jennings in Green Bay, Bucs CB Aqib Talib is gearing up for Smith, who owns six 100-yard games against Tampa Bay and is on pace for his fifth Pro Bowl berth.
"Aqib's got the big dog coming to town,'' Morris said. "He looks forward to these types of challenges. These are the ones that separate the big-time corners from the OK corners to the bad corners, when you play these kinds of guys. I look forward to watching the show myself on the sideline.''
After finishing last in the league in total offense in 2010, the Panthers have vaulted to No. 5 with the dynamic Newton under center.
"Having Newton there makes him (Smith) want to play,'' Talib said. "He gives him a reason. They've got an explosive offense and everyone wants to be part of that. Smith's 5-foot-10 or 5-9, but he plays like he's 6-3 or 6-4. And he runs like he's 5-9. He's just a strong all-around receiver.''
DT Brian Price (ankle) is likely to play Sunday, but DE Michael Bennett (groin) remains doubtful, Morris said. …Since 2008, the Panthers lead all NFL clubs with 8,269 rushing yards. …The Bucs are 12-1 in the past two seasons when holding their opponents to fewer than 21 points.