Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mason Foster

Top 15 Buccaneers: No. 11

June, 27, 2014
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We continue our list of the top 15 Buccaneers with No. 11:

Mason Foster, middle linebacker

What he did in 2013: Foster started 13 games at middle linebacker for Tampa Bay. He produced 92 tackles, one forced fumble and three interceptions.

Why he’s No. 11 in 2014: Foster’s first three seasons in the NFL have been productive, but far from spectacular. In coach Lovie Smith’s defense, Foster will get a chance to shine. Hardy Nickerson and Brian Urlacher previously were stars in the middle of Smith’s defense. Foster will call the defensive plays, something he last did as a rookie. He also will be asked to drop into pass coverage more frequently than he has in the past. But the Bucs believe Foster is ready to match up with tight ends and running backs in coverage.
We already knew the Buccaneers would have a new look on defense. They’re going with the Tampa 2 system.

But this defense also will have a new sound. That’s because someone different will be calling the defensive plays. Middle linebacker Mason Foster now will fill that role. Weakside linebacker Lavonte David wore the radio helmet and called the plays the last two season. But Foster has called the defensive plays in the past.

“I did it my rookie year and we had a lockout that year,” Foster said. “I’m used to it. It’ll be a smooth transition. Real smooth.’’

The switch is being made because coach Lovie Smith prefers to have his middle linebacker calling the plays. That likely means the Bucs are counting on Foster to be an every-down linebacker.

That could be a challenge because Foster hasn’t had to spend a lot of time in pass coverage in the past. But he’ll be asked to do that in this scheme.

Can Foster handle the increase in pass coverage? Smith must think so or else he wouldn’t be giving Foster the radio helmet.
It’s time to continue our pre-draft position-by-position look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the linebackers.

Where things stand: On the weak side, Lavonte David has emerged as one of the best young linebackers in the NFL. He should stand out even more in the new defensive scheme. It’s the same system in which weak-side linebacker Derrick Brooks had a Hall of Fame career. David makes the other linebackers around him better and that’s good news for Mason Foster in the middle and Jonathan Casillas on the strong side. Foster will call the defensive signals and he needs to show he can handle more pass coverage than he’s had to in the past. Casillas has the potential to have a good impact, but needs to show he can stay healthy. Beyond the three starters, there’s not a lot of depth at linebacker.

What to watch for: Linebacker isn’t likely to be a position where the Bucs use an early draft pick because they’re in good shape with their starters. But they could use a later draft pick on a linebacker, particularly if he can play special teams.

Minicamp questions for the Bucs

April, 22, 2014
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As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin a three-day minicamp Tuesday, let's explore some of the biggest questions facing the team.

Is there really a competition at quarterback? Not in minicamp, where most of the time is spent installing the offense. Josh McCown will get the first-team work and Mike Glennon will work with the second team. If Glennon is going to have any chance at surpassing McCown, he’ll have to thoroughly outplay him in training camp and the preseason. Unless the Bucs draft a quarterback in the first round, this is McCown’s job to lose.

Will the offensive line be better? It probably can’t be worse than last year when the line’s play was a major disappointment. The Bucs blew up that line and they’ve overhauled it with additions like left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Still, the biggest question is whether guard Carl Nicks, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, can get back to full strength. If Nicks is totally healthy, he might be the best guard in the game and he makes everyone around him better.

Who starts at wide receiver opposite Vincent Jackson? Let’s be brutally honest. That player isn’t on the roster yet. The Bucs may open minicamp with someone like veteran Louis Murphy running with the first team. But Murphy will be competing for the fourth or fifth receiver spot before all is said and done. This team still needs to add a second and third wide receiver.

Who’s the tight end? The answer to that one may come in plural form. Tim Wright did some nice things as a rookie last season. But Wright is limited as a blocker. That’s why the Bucs brought in Brandon Myers. He can contribute as a blocker and a receiver. The Bucs aren’t likely to use a fullback very often, which means there could be a lot of two-tight-end sets.

Aside from Lavonte David, what’s the situation at linebacker? David is set as the weakside starter, which is the most important linebacker spot in coach Lovie Smith’s defense. Mason Foster is the favorite to remain the starter in the middle, but he needs to show he can drop into coverage much more frequently than he’s done in the past. Jonathan Casillas appears to be the favorite to start on the strong side.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Cornerback Leonard Johnson, tight end Tim Wright, quarterback Mike Glennon, defensive tackle Akeem Spence and linebacker Lavonte David were the big winners for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL’s performance-based pool for 2013.

The pool is designed to compensate players who had relatively low salaries compared to their 2013 playing time. Dozens of Bucs received bonuses, but we’ll stick with the top ones here. The bonuses do not count toward the salary cap.

Johnson led the way with a $208,864 bonus. Wright ($200,592), Glennon ($183,209), Spence $181,593) and David ($180,190) rounded out the top five. The rest of the top 10 was made up of safety Keith Tandy ($152,646), cornerback Johnthan Banks ($145,655), linebacker Mason Foster ($133,268), receiver Tiquan Underwood ($127,927) and linebacker Dekoda Watson ($105,647).

Projecting a lineup: Defense

March, 21, 2014
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We’ve given you projections on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive starters already. Now, let’s flip over to the other side and talk about the defense.

Defensive end: Michael Johnson was signed to a big contract to spice up the pass rush. He’ll start opposite Adrian Clayborn.

Defensive tackle: Gerald McCoy is an All-Pro and should thrive in coach Lovie Smith’s scheme. Free-agent pickup Clinton McDonald could end up starting next to McCoy.

Linebackers: Lavonte David is a certainty on the weak side. Beyond that, there are question marks. Mason Foster has been the starter in the middle the past couple years, but the Bucs signed free agent Dane Fletcher to provide some competition. Jonathan Casillas is the best bet on the strong side, but the Bucs might not be done with that position just yet.

Cornerbacks: Alterraun Verner instantly became the No. 1 cornerback when he was signed as a free agent. That leaves Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins to compete for the other starting job, with the loser taking over as the nickel back.

Safeties: This is one area where there won’t be change. The Bucs are in good shape with Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron as the returning starters.

Buccaneers add more depth

March, 16, 2014
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued their free-agent frenzy Sunday by signing two players that are likely to fill roles as backups.

The Bucs signed former New England linebacker Dane Fletcher and former Cleveland guard Oniel Cousins.

Fletcher has been a backup middle linebacker and special-teams player for New England and is likely to play behind Mason Foster. Cousins was a part-time starter in Cleveland and he could factor into Tampa Bay’s overhaul of the offensive line. The Bucs previously released veterans Davin Joseph and Donald Penn and signed tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith.

Cousins could get a chance to compete with Jamon Meredith and Jeremy Zuttah at guard.

Bucs question: Draft a LB?

March, 1, 2014
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Let’s turn to Eric from Adelphi, Md., for today’s mailbag question.

Eric wants to know if I think the Bucs should draft a linebacker in the first round. My short answer is no and my reasoning is pretty simple. The Bucs have Lavonte David on the weak side and Mason Foster in the middle.

That leaves the strong side as the only opening. In an era when teams play so much nickel defense, the strongside linebacker wouldn’t be on the field very much. I can’t see using a first-round pick on a part-time player.

That said, some mock drafts are linking the Bucs to Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr, a pair of guys that played outside linebacker in college. Both have pass-rush skills and it might be a wise move to draft one of them and move him to defensive end. But there’s no need to draft an outside linebacker in the first round because the need isn't there.

Buccaneers on the hot seat

February, 24, 2014
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New coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht have made it pretty clear the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to have significant turnover this offseason.

That's what you would expect from a new regime taking over a team that went 4-12 last season. Smith already has singled out the offensive line for not playing up to its pay grade last year and he and Licht have talked about how there's going to be competition across the roster.

With that in mind, let's take a look at five guys that could be on the hot seat. I'm talking about guys that could be released and guys that will have to fight for their positions.

Tackle Donald Penn. His cap figure (more than $8 million) is the highest of any lineman. Penn, who turns 31 in April, is not getting younger and the Bucs could be in the market for an upgrade at left tackle.

Guard Davin Joseph. He's just behind Penn with a $6 million cap figure. Joseph didn't have a great season last year and his age, 30, could work against him.

Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers. He won't be a salary-cap casualty and will make it until at least training camp. But it's pretty obvious the Bucs are going to be adding some defensive ends. The light really has to come on for Bowers to be on the opening-day roster.

Middle linebacker Mason Foster. He's been fairly ordinary and it remains to be seen if he's a fit in the new defensive scheme. At very least, Foster will have some competition in training camp.

Wide receiver Mike Williams. His off-field activities have been in the headlines and that hasn't made the new regime happy. Williams has $6.4 million in guaranteed money owed to him over the next two seasons. But it's not like Williams is a superstar and the Bucs might be willing to dump him and take the cap hit.

The next Lavonte David?

February, 19, 2014
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Since the moment he was drafted, Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David has been compared to soon-to-be Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks.

David
Well, now there's a new twist on that. David, who made All-Pro, is becoming the standard of comparison.

"My favorite linebacker is Patrick Willis, but I feel like I tend to play like Lavonte David a lot," Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier said during a break in his combine training at IMG Academy earlier this week. "Coming into the NFL, he was a smaller type linebacker. He's quick and he's tough and he can do anything you ask him to do. I feel like I can do the same thing."

If Shazier is anything like David, he'll make a heck of a pro. But, just like David, who some thought was too small coming out of college, Shazier will have to clear one big obstacle.

"I want to go to the combine and show people I'm not too small," Shazier said.

Shazier has spent the past six weeks at IMG and has placed an emphasis on bulking up. He said he now weighs 233 pounds, after playing at 227 last season.

"He's a very athletic linebacker," IMG director of football operations Chris Weinke said. "He can fly around; he can get into coverage; he can come downhill and fill the hole. I think his body type is going to allow him to do a lot of different things."

Where will Shazier end up in the draft? The gurus are saying he'll be taken somewhere in the first two rounds. Although they already have David, the Bucs could give Shazier a look. They have a need at strongside linebacker, and it remains uncertain whether the new staff is sold on middle linebacker Mason Foster.

"The way our defense was at Ohio State, a lot of times, I was ending up in the middle," Shazier said. "I think I can do everything. I can go in the box; I can go sideline to sideline; I can blitz; and I can cover pretty well. I feel like I'm a three-down backer.

Looking at playing time: Defense

January, 17, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- We previously showed you the playing time for all of Tampa Bay's offensive players. Now, it's time to do the same for the defense.

The Buccaneers had 1,059 defensive plays. Here's the breakdown of the number of plays each defensive player participated in, followed by my quick take.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Gerald McCoy 962, Adrian Clayborn 933, Akeem Spence 694, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim 602, William Gholston 312, Da'Quan Bowers 206, Gary Gibson 164, Derek Landri 123, Steven Means 77, Trevor Scott 54.

Quick take: Most teams rotate their defensive linemen to keep them fresh. But the Bucs didn't do that with McCoy and Clayborn. The theory behind that was that, even when a bit winded, they were substantially better than their backups. The rookie Gholston got a lot of playing time in the second half of the season.

LINEBACKERS: Lavonte David 1,022, Mason Foster 771, Dekoda Watson 257, Jonathan Casillas 197, Adam Hayward 187, Ka'Lial Glaud 6, Danny Lansanah 4.

Quick take: The Bucs played David as much as they possibly could because he might be the best player on the team. Some of Watson's snaps came at defensive end as the Bucs experimented with him at that position late in the season.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Darrelle Revis 948, Johnthan Banks 939, Mark Barron 834, Dashon Goldson 807, Leonard Johnson 691, Keith Tandy 441, Ahmad Black 146, Kelcie McCray 101, Michael Adams 86, Danny Gorrer 83.

Quick take: Even though he wasn't 100 percent as he came back from knee surgery, the Bucs still used Revis a lot.

Overview: Linebackers

January, 16, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- We continue our series of position-by-position overviews with the linebackers.

Looking back: After a very strong rookie season, Lavonte David took the next step and became one of the best outside linebackers in the league. David showed a knack for making plays, showing he can drop in coverage and rush the passer. David’s presence made linebacker perhaps the strongest area of the defense. Mason Foster was solid in the middle. The team went back and forth between Dekoda Watson and Jonathan Casillas on the strong side and both were adequate.

Looking ahead: New coach Lovie Smith is a former linebackers coach and he’d be wise to build his defense around this unit. David and Foster should only continue to get better. Watson and Casillas both can become free agents and the Bucs may look for an upgrade on the strong side.
 
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 27
Preseason power ranking: 22

Biggest surprise: Tim Wright came to training camp as an undrafted wide receiver from Rutgers. He ended up as the starting tight end. That happened because a series of injuries left the Bucs in desperation mode at this position. But let’s give Wright some credit for quickly emerging as a legitimate threat in the passing game. He still has room for improvement as a blocker, but the Bucs might have found something special in Wright.

 Biggest disappointment: Entering the season, the Bucs thought this would be the year that Josh Freeman firmly established himself as a franchise quarterback. That didn’t come close to happening. Freeman was late for several team functions and that put him on coach Greg Schiano’s bad side. It didn’t help as Freeman struggled in the first three games. The Bucs turned to rookie Mike Glennon and eventually released Freeman.

Biggest need: The front office and coaching staff made a conscious decision to let defensive end Michael Bennett, who led the team in sacks in 2012, walk as a free agent. The thinking was that Da'Quan Bowers was ready to emerge as a pass-rushing force. But Bowers never emerged and Tampa Bay’s pass rush wasn’t very good. Rookie William Gholston showed some promise as the season went on, but the Bucs still need to upgrade the pass rush in the offseason.

Team MVP: There really are only two candidates -- defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. McCoy was outstanding, but I’m giving the nod to David. In his second season, David developed a knack for making big plays. People compared him to Derrick Brooks as soon as he was drafted by Tampa Bay. I thought that was a little premature, but I’m starting to think David can be the second coming of Brooks.

 
Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy(AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackLavonte David (54) and Gerald McCoy (93) are cornerstones for what could be a stellar defense.
TAMPA, Fla. -- On the surface, the jobs as coach and general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might not look all that attractive.

But dig a little deeper and it's not hard to imagine candidates lining up to replace Greg Schiano and Mark Dominik, who were fired Monday morning. Look at Tampa Bay's roster, draft position and salary-cap situation, and it's easy to envision a turnaround on the scale of what the Kansas City Chiefs did this year, when they reached the playoffs after a 2-14 season.

Quite simply, the Bucs have too much talent to be a 4-12 team. They have Pro Bowl players in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and cornerback Darrelle Revis. Linebacker Lavonte David should have been selected to the Pro Bowl, but was overlooked. Throw in safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and middle linebacker Mason Foster, and the Bucs have the makings of what could be a very good defense.

Although the offense struggled most of the season, the cupboard is not bare. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson is a top-notch player and if Doug Martin can get healthy, he can be one of the league's best running backs.

In hindsight, Schiano and his staff didn't do a good job. Defensively, they wasted talent by having the defensive linemen stunting too often and the defensive backs playing too much zone coverage. The offense lacked imagination with the running game struggling most of the year and rookie Mike Glennon being thrown in as quarterback after the early-season benching and eventual release of Josh Freeman.

I think the defense can be tweaked, mainly by adding a pass rusher or two, and become very good very quickly. The offense is going to take more work.

But the good news for the next coach and general manager is that the Bucs have the resources to make some significant moves. They'll hold the No. 7 pick in the draft. Plus, Dominik's parting gift was a good salary-cap situation.

As it stands right now, the Bucs are about $10 million under the projected salary cap. Plus, they can carry over almost $7 million in cap space from this year. The Bucs don't have any prominent free agents of their own to re-sign, so they can be significant players in the market.

But the first major choice the new coach and general manager have to make is at quarterback. Is Glennon the long-term answer?

Had Schiano stayed, Glennon was his guy. But look at what Glennon did as a rookie and it's tough to tell if he has any chance of being a franchise quarterback. I think Glennon eventually can be a solid quarterback with a very good team around him.

But, at very least, the new coach and general manager need to bring in someone to compete with Glennon. They probably need to do more than that. They probably need to either sign a high-profile free agent (Jay Cutler?) or use their first-round pick on a quarterback.

They also need to improve the offensive line that's supposed to protect that quarterback. The line was supposed to be a strength this year, but it wasn't. Guard Carl Nicks missed all but two games due to a staph infection and foot problems and there's no guarantee Nicks will ever get back to full health. Guard Davin Joseph and tackle Donald Penn, both 30, are getting older.

It might be time to blow up the offensive line. And the team definitely needs help at tight end.

But that's not a huge to-do list. If the new coach and general manager can make a few upgrades, this team could be a lot better than 4-12 next season.

Schiano met with team before firing

December, 30, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Before he was fired as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Greg Schiano addressed his players and gave no signs he was about to be dismissed.

Schiano and his assistants met with players at 10 a.m. Monday and the news of his firing came more than an hour later. The media got to talk to players shortly after the meeting ended and before the news of the firing came out.

“From how they talked, they went on with regular business as if nothing’s going to change,’’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “We haven’t done anything different than we would do if we’re going to have the same everything.’’

As players cleaned out their lockers to begin the offseason, they went to bat for Schiano despite a 4-12 season that included lots of controversy and injuries.

“[Schiano] never let us hang our heads or feel sorry for ourselves,’’ middle linebacker Mason Foster said. “He’s a great coach and a great person. No matter what was going on, good or bad, he was there on an even keel and kept us going.’’

Players said they admired how Schiano kept the team together during the Josh Freeman saga, an MRSA outbreak and an 0-8 start.

“It was a roller coaster of emotions,’’ McCoy said. “It was hard to get through. But I think our team showed a lot of character. You never saw guys in this locker room turn on each other. We didn’t turn on the coaches. This team didn’t turn on each other.’’

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