A final decision on who gets the starting nod at middle linebacker remains uncertain, but head coach Raheem Morris mentioned Saturday that rookie Mason Foster is spending plenty of time with the first team.
“He’s doing well,” Morris said to reporters after a Saturday afternoon walk-through. “It’s hard to say the job’s his, you’ve got to go through the work, you’ve got to go through the games, you’ve got to go out there and prove yourself. But you want to give him an opportunity to go out there and win it and he’s doing a nice job of picking everything up and competing.”
Foster, 6-foot-1, 241-pounds, was Tampa Bay’s third-round selection out of the University of Washington this year and is battling for the position’s top spot with Tyrone McKenzie and Derrell Smith.
McKenzie, 6-foot-2, 245-pounds, is entering his second year with the team after being drafted in 2009 by New England in the third round. While the former University of South Florida standout from Riverview has a two-year leg up in terms of pro experience, he has only five total tackles under his belt.
Smith was acquired as a free agent after going undrafted out of Syracuse University this spring and is said to be in the mix for playing time. Similarly sized at 6-foot-2, 232-pounds, Smith led the Orange in tackling last season with 114 in 13 games.
The need to designate a new director of the defensive huddle became guaranteed when the Buccaneers parted ways with Barrett Ruud. Tampa Bay’s tackling leader over the past four seasons, Ruud signed with the Tennessee Titans and is their expected starting middle linebacker.
Morris kept his analysis of the position battle brief and general. He noted that Foster did get the most reps with the first group Saturday but that the competition is ongoing.
“I’ve talked about D. Smith a couple times and he’s doing a nice job,” Morris said. “And T. Mac is also out there competing so you’ve got to let these guys go out and play and fix things every day.”
Foster, who signed a four-year deal with the Bucs, has been earning early praise throughout training camp for his hard-hitting demeanor and mindset when between the lines. His ability to track down the ball carrier was highlighted last year with Washington when he led the team in tackles with 162; good for second most in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision. That same senior season, Foster was named an All-American, earned Defensive MVP honors during the Huskies’ 19-7 Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska and participated in the Senior Bowl.