The Tampa Bay Buccaneers passed on an opportunity to re-sign middle linebacker Barrett Ruud because they wanted a more physical presence in the middle of the defense.
After just two preseason games, it appears they have one.
Though he has struggled in coverage and is yet to grasp the defense in a way that would allow him to call plays, rookie Mason Foster is making just the kind of impact the Bucs wanted.
Playing mostly on raw skills, the third-round draft pick out of Washington has a fumble recovery, a key third-down stop and a highlight-reel hit in two exhibition games.
The highlight-reel hit came amid some notable struggles in coverage during a 31-14 loss to the Patriots on Thursday, when Foster plowed into receiver Chad Ochocinco and separated him from the ball.
Foster was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness because his shoulder and elbow hit Ochocinco in the helmet, but his play let NFL receivers know it is no longer safe to run across the middle against the Bucs anymore.
"He's fun,'' coach Raheem Morris said of Foster. "Right now, you see him not quite sure on certain things, but you love all the physical tools he has – the hand usage, the speed, the power, the pop. He got another big hit on the penalty, and that is something we have to coach, because they are always going to err on caution with the National Football League.
"But you don't want to deter that away from Mason either. We're going to abide by the rules, obviously, but you've got keep that kind of mindset in your 'Mike' linebacker's mentality in order to play.''
Foster's physical play aside, there remains a legion of Ruud backers upset by the team's decision not to re-sign him. The number crunchers at Football Outsiders, however, offer a reminder of just why the Bucs moved on.
Though Ruud led the Bucs in tackles for the fourth time in as many years last season, he ranked 105th among all NFL linebackers in a stat the Outsiders call yards per run tackle. It tracks the average yards a back gained before he was tackled by a particular player, and Ruud's number was 4.8 yards per carry in 2010.
That underscores the Bucs' desire to let him go in favor of a more aggressive player like Foster.
And the winner is
The Bucs wanted Jeremy Trueblood and James Lee to fight it out for starting right tackle job, but with Trueblood appears to be the winner after turning in one of his best games in recent memory against the Patriots.
"Trueblood played the most solid game that I've seen from him in a while,'' Morris said of the six-year veteran. "He looked very productive.''
Lee, meanwhile, has not been able to carry over to this year's camp the level of play he displayed a year ago, when he replaced an injured Trueblood and kept the starter's job even after Trueblood returned.
The Bucs are now working Lee at left tackle as well as right, which means he probably will take over as the swing tackle, the player that fills in at either spot in case of an injury.
Score and get the ball back. That's what Morris asks of his defense and, so far this preseason, the defense is doing just that. In two games Tampa Bay has a safety and an interception return for a touchdown while forcing four takeaways, including three fumble recoveries, for a plus-3 turnover ratio.