Whether or not you like Barrett Ruud, when league business resumes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers absolutely need to re-sign him.
Now let me qualify that statement by saying that this isn’t a conversation about whether or not Ruud is a gifted athlete, a good fit for Tampa or a long-term part of the Bucs plans (at least it isn’t yet), this is a conversation about pragmatism. Right now the league is still locked out, and news on a resolution to a labor dispute isn’t good. In fact, some believe nothing will be done until around July 4th, but they have until mid-July before they have to start canceling preseason games and actually begin to lose money. The point is that the lockout probably won’t be over any time soon.
And that’s exactly why the Bucs need to bring back Barrett Ruud. There just simply isn’t enough time to get another player ready to do what Ruud does. For all his criticisms, you cannot take away from Ruud his football intellect. The man is a great football mind and he does a lot of little things better than anyone gives him credit for. Over the last two years he’s basically been responsible for making sure a very young, inexperienced defense gets lined up correctly and then makes the proper pre-snap adjustments. There’s more to playing linebacker than what happens after the snap, and it’s precisely for that reason, the pre-snap abilities, that the Bucs need to keep him.
It’s just absurd to think that any player could possibly come in a month before the season and grow so familiar with the Bucs defensive system and its personnel that he could ever hope to replace what Barrett Ruud does pre-snap. The Bucs will still be one of the youngest teams in the NFL next season too, so that kind of football intelligence will be important.
As much as I am intrigued by Mason Foster and his ability to tackle, the NFL is much different than defending Pac-10 offenses and without the benefit of OTA’s, minicamps and simple access to team facilities, asking a rookie to lead a defense is a very tall order. Even a veteran would struggle with the time constraints and lack of work. The Bucs as a whole may not be benefiting from this lockout but Barrett Ruud sure is.
But before you get too down on Ruud, he may be poised for a pretty solid season next year. Two reasons, first of all Pat Kirwan, a brilliant football mind in his own right, regularly tells our friends at JoeBucsFan that Barrett Ruud is amongst the best at what he is asked to do. As mind boggling as that sounds, read Pat Kirwan’s explanation of Ruud’s proficiency. It really is worth the five minutes, but what Kirwan is basically boiling it down to is the fact that Ruud is asked to hold a different set of responsibilities in the Tampa system than a traditional MLB and that for what he is asked to do, Ruud is exceptional at it.
Now aside from that, I think Ruud will actually have a good season in Tampa this year. The Bucs defensive line was obliterated by injuries last season and ranged from mediocre to downright awful throughout the season. For a guy like Barrett Ruud or any middle linebacker to be successful in a 4-3 configuration the tackles need to keep blockers off of him, that wasn’t happening last year when the Bucs’ interior defensive line was getting pushed back off the ball right at the snap. Hopefully this year with Brian Price and Gerald McCoy at full health and two solid ends rushing from the outside, Barrett Ruud should have to shed significantly fewer blockers and will find himself in better position to make plays. It’s easy to see Barrett Ruud make a tackle six yards downfield and get upset at him, but that’s also a fairly superficial diagnosis, every play is a process and if the guys around Ruud aren’t handling their resonsibilities it doesn’t matter if Ruud handled his.
Regardless of that though, from a purely common sensical standpoint the Bucs need to extend Ruud for at least another season because the drop-off would be too severe if they tried to replace him at this point. Maybe Mason Foster will be his successor, but that won’t be possible until much later in the year and if the Bucs want to compete they can’t afford to let their middle linebacker experience growing pains the first half of the season. A that would be hoping he doesn’t hit a rookie wall.
No, the Bucs need to play it safe, play it smart, and just re-sign Barrett Ruud. There’s not enough time to try anyone else.