A coronation for Josh Freeman?
In the land of the monarchs, on the fields of the empire, the boy king finally got to try on the crown. Now, the question is whether Josh Freeman, heir to the throne, is ready to rule his kingdom. And if so, can he please do something about the blight of the Tampa Bay Bucs?

For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Sunday's international drubbing of the Bucs by the New England Patriots, the most intriguing sight of all came with 9:25 to play when Freeman, the Bucs' No. 1 draft choice, finally got off the bench. Yes, he could have played longer, and true, he should have played better. All in all, it is fair to suggest that Freeman looked something short of regal.

That said, this should be his time. That said, this should be his team. If Freeman is going to have a reign, then this is where it should have begun, on a cool night in a faraway land, fighting for a lost cause.

To be fair, Freeman could have made a stronger argument for his coronation. He played nine plays, and the Bucs gained only 21 yards. He threw two completions and two incompletions. He passed for 16 yards, and he lost 18 yards on sacks. He flashed a little promise, and he showed a few raw edges.

On the other hand, the Bucs are 0-7. And what are they waiting for?

For too long now, the Bucs have acted as if Freeman was an afterthought. There was no rush, no hurry to get him onto the field. He was tomorrow's quarterback, and, goodness knows, there were enough other problems to deal with.

At this point, however, there is nothing more important going on with this team than the need to ready the quarterback who has been referred to as "the franchise" since the day he was drafted. Now that Freeman, 21, has played a little, now that the bye week is coming up, what better time will there be? For crying out loud, Bruce Gradkowski didn't wait this long to play. If Freeman is going to succeed, let's get it started. If he is going to struggle, let's find out.

For goodness' sake, it isn't as if the Bucs are getting stellar play out of their quarterbacks as it is. Josh Johnson, a youngster himself, threw three interceptions Sunday, and he led his offense to only one touchdown. Johnson has lost all four of his starts, he has thrown twice as many interceptions (eight) as touchdowns, and his 50.9 rating wouldn't even be a good completion percentage. In other words, he isn't exactly defending the crown himself.

So who starts against the Packers? Anyone? Gut feeling, it is Freeman. At this point, doesn't it have to be Freeman? If it isn't Freeman, aren't the Bucs saying something about Freeman's potential or his preparation? As for the Bucs, no one is saying.

After the game, coach Raheem Morris talked about evaluating film. Freeman acted as if his playing was no more notable than that of Patriots backup Brian Hoyer. Johnson acted as if his time might be up, but he deferred the decision to the coaches.

"Josh is still our man, and I still support him," Freeman said. "I understood what was going on when I first was the starting quarterback," Johnson said.

Nine plays, and what did we see? We saw one pass, a 13-yard dart to Brian Clark, that suggests his arm is strong enough. We saw one run, a 5-yarder, that suggests he lumbers more than Johnson. We saw an 11-yard sack that suggests that if Freeman is going to succeed, he's going to have to make quicker decisions.

Here's the odd thing. For some reason, a lot of fans in Tampa Bay seem cool to the notion of Freeman already. Perhaps it is his laid-back personality; perhaps it is the way he seems to saunter from one spot to another. Already, there is buzz that he doesn't work hard enough in the classroom, a silly notion when you realize that most of the people saying it couldn't find the classroom with a map.

"Unless someone is in the building, I don't know how they can say what's going on in there," Freeman said. "Nobody knows how much I'm in the classroom. That's the thing that's kind of puzzling."

For the record, Morris said, "He's at work when the coaches get there."

Cornerback Ronde Barber said he likes what he sees of Freeman's work ethic in practice. He said there is something there.

"Josh is starting to get it," Barber said. "Who knows what he will be like when you put him in front of a lot of bullets, but the kid has a strong arm. He seems to have some poise about him. He's big, he's strong, he has all the intangibles. On paper, he should be good. Let's see what he looks like when he has to play."

Yes, let's. To say it again, it is time. If you think he is royal blood, or if you think he is the latest pretender to the throne, it is time to find out.

Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times 26 October 2009