Bucs' Linebacker Shuffle

March 20 - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved Shelton Quarles to the starting middle linebacker spot from his strongside spot, which will now be manned by Al Singleton. Nate Webster, the team's backup middle linebacker, had offseason surgery and may not be available until training camp.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced two position changes on Wednesday. Former strongside linebacker Shelton Quarles will become the team's starting middle linebacker and former reserve Al Singleton will replace Quarles as the Bucs' starting strongside linebacker.

Quarles, who replaces Jamie Duncan in the middle of the Tampa Bay defense, was surprised when he was told of the switch.

"I definitely didn't know," Quarles said. "The whole thing was that I was concentrating on becoming the best SAM (strongside linebacker) linebacker that I could be for this year, so that is what was going through my thought process. Once the season ended, I was coming back strong and getting ready to play SAM. I was pretty surprised when the coaches approached me with it. I said 'I 'm not going out and telling a lot of people about it, because it's still a trial, because I can still have to go over and play MIKE' (middle linebacker).

Quarles' position switch was based on two factors. The first was his fiery demeanor and range to play sideline-to-sideline, which impressed new head coach Jon Gruden and has always impressed defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

The second factor was the offseason surgery that Nate Webster had on both shoulders. The surgery went well, but the rehabilitation time could put him out of action until training camp. Webster may miss all three Bucs' mini-camps, the first of which will take place from April 5-7.

Quarles will be front and center of the Tampa Bay defense at that mini-camp. He understands the differences between the positions and knows that he will have to bulk up and learn his knew assignments.

"Some reads you have to make slower, where playing SAM, you get a certain read and you go and take it on," Quarles said. "At the MIKE position, you have to be hesitant and take it on a little slower and I have to try and do that the best that I can.

"I weigh about 220 (pounds) right now, so I will probably have to put on another 10 pounds and hopefully it won't be 10 pounds of fat weight, it will be muscle weight. I don't think that I have to be 230 (pounds), but whether I put on a little more muscle, it will give me strength to take on those blockers when they are coming after you. Usually, when you are playing strongside linebacker, the only blocker you are taking on is a fullback. Even though I am outweighed by 40 or 50 pounds, I can usually use the angle and try to do what I need to do to make a play. When playing in the middle, you have to take on the lineman, so that is going to be a little bit different for me."

Since joining the Bucs as a free agent from the Canadian Football League in 1997, Quarles has advanced from a special teams standout to a starter on defense beginning in 1997 through hard work on the field and in the class room.

"You know it was tough starting out in Miami and then getting a shot starting out in Canada. Then I received a shot with Coach Dungy to come back to play in the NFL. And now I am getting another shot to play a different position. I have gone from playing special teams, to being a starter at SAM and now hopefully getting a chance to be a starter at MIKE. All I want to do is what is best for the team, and that's where I am at this point of my career."

Last year, Quarles recorded 77 tackles, two sacks and took his only interception of the year back 98 yards for a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers. That play was the longest play in Tampa Bay history. The Bucs coaching staff wants to put the speedy Quarles in a position to make those plays on a more frequent basis.

"I guess it still had to go through our defensive coordinator (Monte Kiffin) and he had to think about it. They talked about it as a staff and they told me probably a couple of weeks ago that they thought about making this move and asked how I felt about it. 'I told them that I don't grade personnel, so if you think that I can play the position, then I think I can.' I let the coaches be the determining factor and if they think that I can play it, then that's what I will do."

Although the starting linebacker spots for the nickel defense are up grabs, the Bucs have typically used Derrick Brooks, their weakside linebacker, and their middle linebacker in the nickel package. When the dust settles, look for Brooks and Quarles to fill those roles, too.

Singleton, a special teams ace like Quarles, will finally be elevated to a starting role. He was the Bucs' fifth-round draft pick in 1997 and has been battling Quarles for the right to start. Singleton posted 32 tackles last season and also recorded a sack.

"Coach (Joe) Barry came to me, sat me down and we talked about it. He told me the reasons why they did it, and I can understand that," Singleton. "The opportunity to start - I was definitely pleased. But he did let me know that you've got to work hard and you've got to impress. That's what I plan to do.

"Throughout all the years I've been switching in and out, since '98, our motto has been, 'If you're out there on the field, you're a starter, so play like one.' So it's no excuse that you haven't been in there. If you're out there, perform like a starter. Being in the system for going on six years now definitely helps."

Singleton knew that there would be changes with Gruden's arrival, but this change couldn't have worked out any better.

"I understand that there would be changes, regardless if Gruden came here or if Tony (Dungy) stayed," Singleton. "We just had a lot of free agents and obviously we weren't going to be able to keep everybody. I knew there were going to be changes as far as that aspect. But I approached the offseason the same as I do every year. Even now, there's still going to be competition and I have to prepare myself for that. He came on and I understood he was a good coach. I had a friend of mine (Lance Johnstone) that played in Oakland for him and I understand what kind of coach he is and what he expects. After meeting with him, he's a fiery type of guy. It should be interesting this season."

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