By Jeff Berlinicke
Of all the positions the Tampa Buccaneers have to worry about this season, they
can rest assured that they are in fine hands at linebacker.
With three weeks remaining until the Bucs kick off the regular season at
Minnesota against the Vikings, coach Jon Gruden has plenty to worry about, but
if there is one place he has a depth of talent, it is linebacker. He has one of
the league's best, two of the league's steadiest, and a rookie who might just
turn out to be the steal of the draft.
Start with Derrick Brooks. After all, you have to look back to the orange and
white Popsicle days before you discussed the Bucs defense without starting with
Brooks. Even more than Lee Roy Selmon, Mike Alstott, or any other player in Bucs
history, Brooks is the signature player. At 32 he hasn't lost a step and, unless
the Bucs brass think he's worth too much against the salary cap, Brooks should
end a potential Hall of fame career as a Buccaneer. He's the undisputed leader
of one of the league's better defenses and hasn't lost a step.
Even when the Bucs season dragged to a merciful end last season, Brooks was the
one Buc who could be counted on, both on and off the field. He's one of the most
charitable players in the NFL and has never been involved in an off the field
incident. Even when he and the Bucs were quarreling over salary negotiations
last year, Brooks never let it become a Terrell Owens media circus.
On the field, Brooks is the unquestioned leader and plays both the run and pass
equally well. After 10 seasons, he's still one of the NFL's finest.
Shelton Quarles is another no-brainer in the middle. He doesn't get the ink or
the publicity of Brooks, but he goes about his business much like defensive end
Greg Spires – quietly and efficiently. Quarles is terrific against the run and
knows how to deal the punishment to anyone over the middle. He got a lot of
calls last year after nose tackle Booger McFarland went down with a
season-ending injury, and he came up big, often the last stop between a
four-yard stop and a long gain.
With the departure of Ian Gold to free agency, the Bucs strong side linebacker
job falls to Jeff Gooch. Gold was solid last year, but Gooch has been one of the
Bucs most impressive players during training camp, taking command of the strong
side position. He had better watch himself because second-round draft pick
Barrett Ruud has amazed coaches with his athleticism and knack for picking up
the Bucs defense. Assuming that Gooch, Quarles, and Brooks hold onto the
starting jobs, Ruud will still get about 15 plays a game and you can already
pencil him in for the 2006 season, even if it means cutting a contract.
With the Bucs being a traditional 4-3 defense, if Ruud continues to progress,
and McFarland suffers another injury on the defensive line, it might be
intriguing for the Bucs to look at a 3-4 defense so Ruud can get more snaps.
Defensive end Simeon Rice is a natural linebacker and can drop into coverage,
but Ruud provides just another option on the Bucs defense.
Bucs Set at Linebacker
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