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Some NFL teams breed QBs, some Wide Receivers. The Steelers seem to always have good running backs. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have always been a team of great linebackers.
Even in the lean years, Tampa Bay produced Chris Washington, Ervin Randall, Eugene Marve, Winston Moss, Broderick Thomas, Kevin Murphy to name a few. But in the emergence of Tony Dungy’s Tampa Two, linebackers on the Bucs went from 4 down to 3, and the middle one or “MIKE” backer, has a very special roll.
The Tampa Two differs from a Cover Two in that the C2 has two safeties playing half of the field all the way back. Cover 3 has three defensive backs that split the field into thirds, but gives away to the offense that you have 3 defensive backs covering deep. The Tampa 2 uses the Middle Linebacker to drop back into coverage and take the responsibility of the middle of the field allowing the safeties to take their thirds.
In order to play the MIKE linebacker, you have to have two things:
The MIKE is also the Quarterback of the defense, gets to wear the Mic’ed up helmet, and calls the defensive signals. He is the key to the defense, and this year, he is Mason Foster. Last season the Bucs best linebacker Lavonte David was calling plays, so this may come as an unwelcome change by Bucs fans, but you have to understand one thing:
Mason Foster was DRAFTED to play the Tampa 2 Linebacker. He played the roll under Raheem Morris when he was drafted in 2011, so he has the skills and did quite well before, and should have no problem with the transformation.
If there is a learning curve at all, he has the best teacher you can possibly want: Only the best linebacker to ever play the MIKE on a Tampa 2 defense for Tampa Bay- Hardy Nickerson. When Nickerson became Bucs linebackers coach this season, he added more than just his experience as a great linebacker, but all of his knowledge at the unique position, originally taught by HIS Linebackers coach- Lovie Smith!
So the torch is passed- Because after Nickerson, Shelton Quarles excelled for several years in the MIKE spot. Few people know that Quarles replaced Jamie Duncan in 2002, a move made not by Dungy, but Head Coach Jon Gruden and DC Monte Kiffin. Remember that when people say Gruden won the SuperBowl with Dungy’s team!
Quarles ran it to perfection before giving way to Barrett Ruud. Problem with Ruud however was his inability to stand up against the run. He had the speed but lacked in size, and then the Raheem Morris regime gave up on the Tampa 2k with Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates.
Foster had 2 remarkable INT returns for Touchdowns last year, A 37 yarder against the Atlanta Falcons, and the 85 yard beauty against New Orleans that ranked 18th best play of the year on NFL Network! So he is no stranger to playing lights out football in Tampa, and Bucs fans should just get used to seeing No. 59 all over the field, including the end zones.