Whether the Buccaneers end up re-signing veteran Barrett Ruud or not, rookie Mason Foster is prepared to compete for the starting middle linebacker job in 2011. Foster was the first member of Tampa Bay's 2011 draft class to be signed by the Bucs.
The supposed lack of interest in re-signing veteran Barrett Ruud, who is one of the Buccaneers’ unrestricted free agents, has put the spotlight on rookie Mason Foster, who appears to be the leading candidate to start at middle linebacker along with Tyrone McKenzie. Foster was the first of Tampa Bay’s 2011 draft class to sign his four-year contract, which was by design according to Mark Dominik.
During Tuesday’s press conference, the Bucs general manager indicated that the team is moving away from Ruud and looking to the future with Foster, who was drafted in the third round, manning the middle of Tampa Bay’s defense.
Upon reporting to training camp at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday, Foster met with the media and expressed relief about getting his first NFL contract out of the way.
“You know, it feels great,” Foster said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid, so signing with the Tampa Bay Bucs is big for me and I am ready to go.”
Foster implied that he would not shy away from competition at middle linebacker, but is prepared to assume the starting reins of the position if given the opportunity.
“I just want to come in and compete and try to help this team win anyway possible with special teams or whatever,” Foster said. “I just want to come and learn from the older guys and do whatever I can.
“You know if [Ruud] is here or if he is not here, he is a great player. If I had the chance to learn from him it would be great, but I am here to play and I want to learn from everybody that is here and just come in and try to take advantage of my opportunity and do whatever I can.”
Foster admits that it will be an uphill climb to come in and learn the Bucs playbook in crash-course fashion over a truncated, two-week training camp and be ready to make all of the calls and adjustments with the start of the 2011 season just five weeks away.
“You know it is going to be tough, but at the same time I am ready to learn,” Foster said. “I am going to try to learn as much as I can from [linebackers] Coach [Joe Baker] and just take it all in stride and try to be the best player I can be.
“It is great to be here. There is a great group of guys. Everybody has been real cool. At the same time, during the lockout I was just working hard as possible getting ready for this day and now it is here so I am ready to go. … Mentally I am going to have to catch on, but physically, I am ready to go.”
To help get up to speed as quickly as possible, Foster skipped the NFL Players Association rookie symposium and joined first-round draft pick Adrian Clayborn in Bradenton for the entire three-day unofficial mini-camp at the end of June.
“I went down to the minicamp that Josh Freeman put on, but that was about it,” said Foster, who spent much of the offseason working out at the University of Washington in Seattle. “I got to talk to Quincy [Black] and Tyrone McKenzie – great guys. You know I can learn from them, so I am excited to be here.
“Quincy and Tyrone came to me right away when I met them. They took me right in and showed me different things and showed me little things they learned throughout being here. I am excited to be here. I am excited to play with those guys and learn from them.”
As of Thursday, Foster had yet to be told by the Bucs coaching staff that he could possibly be the opening day starter at middle linebacker if Tampa Bay passes on re-signing Ruud, as expected.
“They just want me to come in and compete,” Foster said. “No, they have not told me anything like that. [They said] ‘You know, come in and play as hard as possible. Play the way you played at Washington.’ I just want to be the best player I can be for this team and I am just really excited.”
Foster said that he played in a defense that was similar to Tampa Bay’s at his alma mater, although some of the terminology was different. He understands that he has a lot of catching up to do after missing all of the organized team activities (OTAs) and mini-camps that were cancelled this offseason due to the NFL lockout.
“Of course you are always going to have a disadvantage being a rookie no matter what, so you know it is going to depend on how mentally strong you are and how you can come in and try to pick it up fast,” Foster said. “Really, I am just going to let my effort speak for itself and just try to play as hard as possible. If you mess up, mess up at a hundred miles per hour.”
Upon arriving at One Buccaneer Place on a sweltering day in late July, Foster knows that in addition to the playbook, he will have to acclimated to the Florida heat and humidity after spending the last four years playing in a cooler climate at Washington.
“The heat is definitely something new, but you know it is exciting to get out of the rain for a little bit and I am ready to go.
“This is only my first day and I am excited.” – Victoria Horchak contributed to this report
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.