The growing likelihood Quincy Back won’t play in the 2013 season and might never play football again has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the lookout for a new strongside linebacker.
The possibility of moving middle linebacker Mason Foster to that spot and finding a new middle through free agency or the draft is one potential option, but the Bucs see that as more of a last resort.
Tampa Bay officials thought Foster improved markedly in his second season last year, especially as a run stopper, and needs just a little more coaching to become the all-around playmaker they need.
“I thought Mason played really good football at times last year,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “Now, there were other times when he didn’t play all that well, but that’s really on us as coaches.
“We need to get to a point as coaches where, when we see that a guy can do it and he can get the job done the way we want him to, we get him to do it all the time, because that’s our job. Now, if a guy can’t do it, that’s a different story. Then you have the wrong guy in there and you have to weather it until you can replace him.’’
Foster got the job done consistently as a run stopper last year, ranking second on the Bucs in total tackles with 105 while recording 13 tackles for loss. But he sometimes struggled as a pass defender, which is a critical part of the middle linebacker’s job.
The Bucs will try to improve that area of Foster’s game when offseason workouts begin, but Foster is already addressing it himself by working regularly at One Buc Place to refine his game.
“There’s always a chance (we could move Foster), but that’s not something where I’m saying, ‘Hey, if we do this, then we can move him,’ ’’ Schiano said. “That’s not really what we’re thinking.’’
Schiano’s ringing endorsement of QB Josh Freeman doesn’t mean the Bucs won’t go ahead with their plan to look for another quarterback who has the potential to push Freeman for playing time.
Schiano is too strong a believer in the value and benefits of competition to scrap that idea.
“I do think it's important, but Josh has a lot confidence in his own ability, so it will be his competition's problem,” Schiano said. “They've got to beat him out, because he’s got the position.’’
“I just think (competition) is critical to everybody, that it raises the level of the whole room. When a guy really believes he doesn't have a chance to play, then human nature dumbs it down a little bit (for the other guy).’’
The Bucs suffered through a difficult season at cornerback when injuries, suspensions and the trade of Aqib Talib forced them to rely primarily on inexperienced players at one of the most critical positions on the field.
At the same time, though, the Bucs benefitted from being able to test some players who might not have been tested otherwise, and at least two passed those tests with high grades.
“I thought two players that really stepped up were Leonard Johnson and Danny Gorrer,’’ Bucs GM Mark Dominik said. “Those are two players who got opportunities, took advantage and are now in a position now to hold onto a roster spot and make this football team.’’