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October 10, 2012 @ 11:00 am
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Bucs 2012 In-Season Issue

Foster Has Become A Monster In The Middle

WRITTEN_BY Scott Reynolds Scott Reynolds
Scott Reynolds

Scott
Reynolds

Publisher
The play of Buccaneers middle linebacker Mason Foster, who leads the team with 36 tackles, including seven tackles for loss, has become scary good in his second season in the NFL.
The image of Atlanta running back Jaquizz Rodgers – all 5-foot-6, 196 pounds of him – trucking Tampa Bay middle linebacker Mason Foster at the goal line for a touchdown in last year’s season finale was a scene out of a horror movie. Despite the fact that Foster led the Buccaneers in tackles with 126 last year in addition to recording two sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, many felt Tampa Bay’s third-round pick in 2011 wasn’t fit to play middle linebacker.

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.”

Last modified on Friday, 12 October 2012 06:54

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Scott Reynolds

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COMMENTS

  • avatar


    Foster and David should be Great for years to come. With Baron in the secondary and McCoy up front, we just might get back to one of the best defenses in the league. It would be great to get the LB from Notre Dame, but it will be near impossible to draft him, when we have so many other needs.
  • avatar


    I was certainly wrong about Foster being able to play MLB in the NFL. I always liked him but I said he should be at SLB. The main thing I was wrong about is him being willing to add the strength it took to play the position in the offseason. I've said all along that his lack of strength was his issue. Still, wrong is wrong no matter how you slice it.
  • avatar


    While the LB's are playing faster and are making more plays, I see this more a result of them not being blocked by OL as much, since our DL is playing MUCH better versus the run this season. The DL appears to be playing more as a unit and is redirecting a lot of runs and occupying would-be blockers. It's a lot easier for any LB to make plays without a 300lb lineman all over him. That being said, the addition of David's speed / quickness (versus the poor play of G Hayes) has enabled him to beat blockers to the ball carrier as well. It's all inter-related, and thus, can become unraveled very quickly as well. Keep it up guys!
  • avatar


    I am happy to see Foster finally get some due recognition for what he is doing! ] Last year he was thrown in to a crazy situation. I wanted to see him have a year to learn under Ruud, but that was not to be. (I understand Rah wanted to keep Ruud but, either Dominik said no! or Ruud wasn't having any of it.) Maybe, things will turn out to have worked out for the better the way things have occured. ] At any rate I still have high hopes for Foster. I agree with gibsonmx's comments. Who knows? ... We just might have a couple of pro-bowl linebackers in the next say 5 to 10 years. ] Go Bucs!!!
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