When 2007 began most people expected the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to improve, but not to the extent that they did by the end of the year. A division championship was an unexpected gift to Buccaneers fans and the franchise. How did it happen?
In hindsight, there are signposts to a successful season. Here is No. 3 in our series of the most significant moments of the 2007 season and how they impacted Tampa Bay's run to a division championship.
3. TAMPA BAY RELEASED LB SHELTON QUARLES, PROMOTES BARRETT RUUD TO STARTING MLB, APRIL 25
Bucs GM Bruce Allen's press conference was supposed to be about the upcoming NFL Draft. Instead it became about Shelton Quarles.
Allen announced the release of the long-time veteran middle linebacker that day, stating that Quarles had failed a physical. That caused some consternation with Quarles, but he eventually made nice and became a scout for the Buccaneers.
Quarles had done tremendous work for the Bucs during his tenure, but the writing was on the wall. Quarles missed a few starts in 2006, giving second-year linebacker Barrett Ruud valuable playing time.
By the spring, the Bucs were ready to give Ruud the job full-time.
This was a gamble, frankly. Ruud admitted that he had always played with one eye looking over his shoulder waiting for Quarles to come back on the field.
Now he was the guy, and that knowledge could be freeing — or an albatross around his neck. And we didn't get much indication in preseason, either, as Ruud played sparingly.
But by the end of September, all doubts had been erased.
Ruud was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September, as he finished the month with a league-leading 51 tackles, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two passes defensed and one interception. Against New Orleans he posted a career-high 16 tackles, a career-high two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in the Buccaneers 31-14 victory over the Saints. He earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week after that.
By the end of the year Ruud led the Bucs with 169 tackles, proved he could be solid in pass coverage and lead a defense filled with veteran presence.
More importantly, the Bucs found their middle linebacker for the next 10 years.
Next: The sudden departure of the loquacious Simeon Rice.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.