Rookie linebacker Mason Foster, the team's third-round pick in 2011, has impressed his coaching staff enough to earn the start at middle linebacker Friday night against Kansas City. In his Wednesday afternoon press conference coach Raheem Morris talked about the difficulty of stepping into a new position.
“Its tough to step into any of those linebacker positions,” Morris said. “Middle would be particularly harder. It puts more on his plate, but fortunately he is going to play next to two vets in Quincy Blank and Geno Hayes. Fortunately, the way things are going now, he is playing the base Mike [middle linebacker]. We have Quincy in at that nickel [coverage] Mike. So he gets the chance to really focus and lock on onto his base responsibilities. If he grows into the [full time] Mike, then that’s great.”
The Buccaneers organization obviously has no problem thrusting young players, even rookies into starting roles. Morris said that is by design.
"But we have to find a way to play young guys; if you don’t find a way to play young guys then it is me making a mistake,” Morris said. “When we got started and I was the defensive backs coach, Tanard [Jackson] was clearly a better safety then what we had. I wanted to put him in at a nickel safety at first because I was worried about him making the whole season. Tanard was kind of a smaller guy. He just picked it up and kept running with it and got better than anyone else and became the starting safety.”
While the middle linebacker normally handles making the defensive calls, Morris believes Foster, although a rookie, can pick things up quickly. Morris also acknowledged the team will also rely on the experience of the veteran linebackers.
“I think it’s hard to step in anywhere,” Morris said. “It's particularly hard to step in at linebacker, and particularly hard to step into the Mike. But he has done a nice job adjusting to his new environment.
“It's less of a concern, its more of a ‘Hey, let's give him the base stuff.’ We have Quincy Black, who we have a lot of confidence in with a serious demeanor and we liked him at Mike. I don’t know if it’s a concern about Mason but more about the best two linebackers on the field right now. When you get nickel you are going to get Quincy and proven Geno Hayes out there. When you get the Redskin package (3-3-5), and bring in that third 'backer you want Dekoda Watson in there rushing the passer. [When] you go base you want Mason out there with that thick body who can hit some people in the mouth and do some different things. He still has to prove that as well. I kind of like that little mixture.”
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