table of contents
- These Bucs Have Been MIA In Recent Weeks
- Byner’s NFL Experience A Big Benefit To Martin, Blount
- Point-Counterpoint: Is Bucs Rookie Doug Martin A Special RB?
- 4 Players That Could Help The Bucs In 2013
- Pewter Prospect: CB Jordan Poyer
- Pewter Prospect: OL Barrett Jones
- First Quarter Report: 4 Best Buccaneers On Offense
- First Quarter Report: 4 Best Buccaneers On Defense
- Bucs’ First Quarter Progress Report
- Foster Has Become A Monster In The Middle
- Bucs’ First Quarter Defensive Grades
- Bucs’ First Quarter Offensive Grades
- In The Lab: TE Danny Noble
While there were plenty of times Foster was out of position, confused and hesitated to the point where he missed the tackle, keep in mind that the rookie was playing a brand new position and having to call the defense after missing the entire offseason due to the NFL lockout. The first time Foster got his hands on the playbook was the first day of training camp.
“There’s no doubt that experience helps everybody,” Bucs linebackers coach Bob Fraser said. “I don’t know what happened last year, but that experience of starting as a rookie had to have been wonderful for him. It has had to help him. For a rookie to not have OTAs last year and mini-camps and do what he did was amazing. He’s playing awfully hard for us right now.”
After learning from last year’s mistakes during the offseason, Foster looks like a whole different player this year. He looks like the player the Bucs coaching staff decided to put faith in as the team bypassed signing a veteran free agent middle linebacker and decided against drafting Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly for.
Foster once again leads the Buccaneers with tackles, and through four games he has 36 as well as an interception and half a sack. He is no longer a frightening player who misses tackles. Now this monster in the middle of Tampa Bay’s resurgent run defense is scary good.
“He’s getting into his gaps and being where he’s supposed to be,” Tampa Bay defensive end Michael Bennett said. “I think the only difference from last year is that he’s actually making the tackles. That’s it. He’s stronger. Last year he was in position to make tackles, but didn’t make them. This year he’s in position to make them and he’s making them. That’s really helping our team.
“I attribute his improvement to his strength and experience. He knows how to make the tackle. In college every running back is easy to take down. In the NFL this is a job, so they aren’t going down as easy.”
Foster came to Tampa Bay last year weighing 240 pounds and was asked to put on weight to get to 250 pounds so he could hold up better in the middle of Raheem Morris’ defense. But this year, Schiano and Fraser asked Foster to slim back down to 240 pounds in an effort to become faster, quicker and better conditioned.
“I lost weight, but I put some back on in terms of muscle,” Foster said. “I’m eating healthier and I’ve worked out more and gotten stronger. Even though I weigh about the same – around 240 – I’m a lot leaner now.”
This year, a faster, more confident and more aggressive Foster is leveling opponents with much harder hits. In Week 2 against the New York Giants, he blasted running back Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver Domenik Hixon so hard that both players had to leave the game. Bradshaw had and inflamed vertebrae and Hixon had a concussion. Foster had his best game as a pro, registering 13 tackles (12 solo) and an interception against the Giants.
“I felt good and I feel comfortable in this defense,” Foster said. “I have to give a lot of credit to the guys around me. They were staying in their gaps and doing their jobs. I was playing really hard and everyone was playing hard. I was just feeding off them. It was a decent game. I did a little bit of everything, but I feel like I can do better. I still missed some things here and there.”
Foster’s position coach is thrilled with how well he has started the season.
“Mason has done a fantastic job,” Fraser said. “You see that in his production and in the way he tackles.”
When the Buccaneers defense was getting gashed for 150 rushing yards per game last year, which ranked dead last in the NFL, many pointed the finger at the rookie middle linebacker and blamed Foster for not doing more to stop the run. Critics said the Bucs should have re-signed Barrett Ruud.
But what a difference a year makes. Having that year’s worth of experience has benefitted Foster tremendously, while Ruud is still looking for work after flaming out of Tennessee, Seattle and New Orleans within the last year.
One of the biggest reasons for the improved run defense is the fact that Tampa Bay defenders, led by Foster, are living in their opponents’ backfield. In 2011, the Bucs had 66 tackles for loss. Through four games in 2012, Tampa Bay’s defense already has 30.
“Coach Schiano constantly stresses getting the offense off schedule and keeping our offense on schedule,” Fraser said. “Getting tackles for loss certainly helps us get offenses into second-and-long and third-and-long situations, and that is helping our defensive linemen get to the quarterback.”
Foster is spearheading that effort and has a team-high seven tackles for loss through four games after having just four in 16 games last season.
“We have a better run defense this year,” Bennett said. “Last year we didn’t have a good run defense and as a result we didn’t have a lot of pass rush opportunities. This year we have more opportunities because we are getting more tackles for loss, and we are capitalizing on them. We’re hungry and we feel pretty good.”
After a strong start to his second season, Foster will keep haunting opponents in October after the bye week. Next up for Tampa Bay is stopping Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles, who leads the NFL in rushing with 551 yards on 102 carries (5.4 avg.).
The good news is that Foster won’t have to tackle that challenge by himself, as weakside linebacker Lavonte David has been terrific during his rookie season. In the team’s recent 24-22 loss to Washington, David had his best game as a pro with 14 (12 solo) tackles and three tackles for loss.
“Mason is an energetic guy,” said David, who has 33 tackles on the season – just three less than Foster. “He’s always ready to play. We feed off him.”
Foster also played well against the Redskins, notching 10 tackles and a half a sack.
“It’s been great playing with Lavonte,” Foster said. “I liked him way back in college. I played against him in college. Our style of play works well together. We have an inside-outside game going. It’s a good one-two punch. We are feeding off each other and trying to get better. It’s a little competition, but it’s exciting. Every time I make a tackle he’s right next to me, and every time he makes a tackle I’m right next to him.”
Due to increased strength, a year’s worth of experience and better preparation, Foster’s start to the 2012 season has been absolutely terrifying for opponents.
“I have a good grasp on this defense and where everyone is supposed to be, and I love playing football,” Foster said. “I love being a Buccaneer. I love playing for Coach Schiano. I just want to do anything to win. I am playing my heart out and I’m having fun doing it. I feel good about how I’m playing right now.”