TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Less than five seasons are declaring Josh Freeman was the future of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the struggling franchise is tying its hopes to another rookie quarterback.
Coach Greg Schiano benched Freeman in favor of untested Mike Glennon, two days after insisting the former first-round draft pick remained the starter because he gave the Bucs the best chance to win.
On Wednesday, Schiano said several times Glennon now gives the Bucs the best chance to win.
The coach said he changed his mind after meeting Tuesday with general manager Mark Dominik, and later discussing the situation with ownership — which signed off on the move.
“This is a performance-based decision,” Schiano said after practice Wednesday. “We’re not getting the job done on the field.”
The winless Bucs have lost their first three games, two on field goals in the closing seconds. Freeman has completed just 45.7 percent of his passes for 571 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Dating to last season, they’ve dropped eight and nine games, and the offense hasn’t played well throughout the stretch.
“There are a lot of reasons for it. It’s not just one guy,” Schiano said of Freeman, the franchise career completions leader who is in the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie. “But’s that’s a critical piece of it. … The quarterback touches the ball every play.”
The Bucs did not make Freeman, who’s 24-35 as a starter, available for interviews.
Glennon was drafted in the third round out of North Carolina State, where he spent part of his college career as a backup to Russell Wilson. He will make his first pro start Sunday at home against Arizona.
The 23-year-old did not make a push to unseat Freeman during the preseason, however he feels he’s continued to grow while riding the bench and is ready to make the next step.
“This is what I prepared my whole life for. I’m excited about it. Can’t wait,” Glennon said. “I’ve prepared ever since I can remember. Growing up, this is what I dreamed of doing, this is what I worked for. I’m really excited about it.”
Glennon ran a pro-style offense at North Carolina State, and both he and Schiano believe that experience will help him.
“I have five years of an NFL-like offense under my belt. Not the same terminology, not the exact same plays, but as an 18-year-old, I was running NFL concepts,” the rookie said. “You watch college football, and that’s not as common nowadays. So I was very fortunate.”
At 6-foot-6, Glennon is slightly taller than Freeman but lacks the overall size (248 pounds), strength and mobility of the player he’s replacing.
Schiano is confident, though, that Glennon can manage the offense and is capable of making all the throws necessary to be a successful pro.
“I’m not going to get into comparisons with what Josh can do, and what (Glennon) can do,” Schiano said.
“What I will tell you is that Mike is a smart, tough football player. I think he works extremely hard, I think he will go out and try to do what we’re coaching him to do,” Schiano said. “You’re not going to be perfect, no one is. But I think he’s going to try to do it to his ability, which is what we’re asking him to do in the game plan.”
The Bucs need an offensive jolt.
After setting single-season team records for passing yards and points scored in 2012, Tampa Bay has scored just three offensive touchdowns through three games — none in the past seven quarters.
Freeman’s completion percentage and quarterback rating (59.3) are last in the league, and Tampa Bay’s had trouble scoring points despite having proven playmakers in running back Doug Martin and receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
The fifth-year pro, once touted by Dominik as a franchise quarterback, has thrown for four TDs vs. 12 interceptions in the last six games.
“It’s not the end of his career. He’s got a lot of football left,” guard Davin Joseph said, while also expressing confidence in Glennon taking over.
“Starting quarterback is a hard job to keep and a hard job to get,” Joseph added, “and I think Mike is up to the challenge.”
The switch caps a tumultuous month in which Freeman missed a team photo shoot on Labor Day, was not voted a team captain for the first time in three years and refuted reports that he was seeking a trade. Throw in his quarterback rating and completion percentage, plus a couple of last-second losses in games in which he and the offense did not perform well, and he’s back on the bench.
And, perhaps headed out of Tampa Bay, with the trade deadline being five weeks away.
It’s been a gradual, but consistent slide toward his possible exit.
Freeman became the first 4,000-yard passer in team history last season, but his inconsistency down the stretch contributed to the Bucs losing five of final 6 games to finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
The 25-year-old Freeman was the third quarterback selected in the 2009 draft behind Mark Sanchez and Matthew Stafford. He made his first NFL start — a win against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers — after Tampa Bay began his rookie season with seven consecutive losses. The former Kansas State star followed with a breakout season in 2010, when the Bucs went 10-6 but failed to make the playoffs.
Freeman threw for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions that year, and the future appeared bright — for him, the team and former coach Raheem Morris.
Inconsistent play has dogged him and the Bucs since.
Morris was fired after going 4-12 in 2011, leaving Freeman to learn his third offensive system in four seasons when Schiano was hired last year.
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