No rush for Bucs with Freeman

The Jets will open the regular season with rookie Mark Sanchez as their starting quarterback. The Lions are figuring out if they will do the same with top overall draft pick Matthew Stafford.

There is no mystery with how Tampa Bay will use first-round quarterback Josh Freeman. He’s the backup. But for how long?

That will depend on the team’s early success, or lack thereof, the health of the starting quarterback and whether a possible trade of Byron Leftwich or Luke McCown leaves Freeman as the No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback option.

“If there’s no need to rush, then why rush?,” Tampa Bay GM Mark Domenik said.

Domenik said the Bucs have tried to construct their offense in the run-first mold that Atlanta and Baltimore used last season when they started rookies Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, respectively. Freeman starting at some point of this season is a possibility but the plan is to let Leftwich or McCown start through a brutal early season schedule that would test even the most seasoned veteran.

“They set the table for those guys to have a chance at success,” Domenik said of Atlanta and Baltimore. “When we were building this team in March, trading for Kellen (Winslow), keeping Antonio Bryant and signing Derrick Ward, we were building the offense so we don’t put it all on the quarterback.”

The Bucs have let teams around the league know that all of their quarterbacks except for Freeman could be had in a trade. Tampa Bay would keep four quarterbacks (including Josh Johnson) if they don’t get an appropriate trade offer but they would rather move one of them, with seemingly no preference as to whom.

Leftwich will start Tampa Bay’s next preseason game against Miami and play up to 1 1/2 quarters. McCown will follow and play the same amount. Freeman will most likely finish the game, Domenik said. Johnson likely won’t play.

The Bucs are hoping that trade possibilities arise after the game.

Steve Wyche

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