DERRICK BROOKS (Starter)
STATISTICS: 162 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 passes defensed.
ANALYSIS: At 34, Brooks is not the defender he was five years ago. But that doesn't mean he's not a productive player. He was second on the team in tackles, rarely found himself out of position and gave the Bucs defense stability on the weak side. He even accepted the use of Cato June at his position on some passing downs, a tactic that left Brooks fresher later in games and later in the season. The former Seminole must make some concessions to age. What Brooks really lacked was a big-play presence in 2007. He didn't make an interception and nearly as many impact plays as fans are used to seeing.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: Brooks is in the next to last year of his contract and is set to count $3.850 million against the salary cap (remember that he gave the Bucs back several million dollars in 2006 to give them some cap relief). He'll be the starter at weak side linebacker, barring an injury or sudden retirement.
BARRETT RUUD (Starter)
STATISTICS: 169 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries and 4 passes defensed.
ANALYSIS: He went into the season with big shoes to fill, namely Shelton Quarles'. Ruud, in his third season and his first as a full-time starter, didn't disappoint. He bolted out of the game for a 16-tackle outing, with two forced fumbles, in his second start against New Orleans, which earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. A few weeks later, Ruud earned NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for the month of September. A great run defender, Ruud proved early he would not be a liability in pass coverage as some thought. He spent two years learning behind Quarles and it was obvious he learned a lot. There was little to quibble with in regards to Ruud this season.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's set to count $991,000 against the salary cap. The Bucs will probably seek to work out a contract extension with him at some point, as he's in the last year of his rookie deal. They won't let him get away. They know he can be their middle linebacker for the next 8 to 10 years.
CATO JUNE (starter)
STATISTICS: 120 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recover, 2 passes defensed.
ANALYSIS: There were questions about whether June could make the transition to being a strong side linebacker in Tampa Bay. But he assuaged fears early by revealing that he played a similar position for Tony Dungy in Indianapolis. His play took care of the rest. He proved he could handle larger blockers on the strong side and make plays. He proved an asset on passing downs, especially when he was shifted over to the weak side for Brooks. He really came on in the middle of the season, enjoying a stretch of 8, 13, 11, 7, 11, 7 and 9 tackles, starting with the Carolina game on Sept. 30. Perhaps he tired a bit down the stretch. It was hard to tell by the way the veterans were used once the division title had been sewn up. But he finished the season with a broken foot and failed to play in the playoff game. Overall, though, June played a bit better than expected.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's slated to count $2.67 million against the salary cap. He'll remain the starter at SLB and do a little work at WLB on passing downs. He's entering the prime of his career and he should continue to perform at a high level.
JEREMIAH TROTTER (Backup)
STATISTICS: 17 tackles in two games. Spent 13 more inactive.
ANALYSIS: He quickly garnered respect in the locker room for not making waves as Ruud's backup, when he had the right to ask for more. He showed in the season's final two games that he still had enough left to contribute as a starter or key performer.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's an unrestricted free agent. He'll likely set out to find a starting job.
RYAN NECE (Backup)
STATISTICS: 5 tackles. Started the playoff game after Cato June's injury. Also had 16 special teams tackles.
ANALYSIS: Nece had to take a back seat to June after two years as the starter as SLB. He became an above-average special teams performer and performed adequately in the playoff game.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's due to count $1.160 million against the salary cap. He's valuable depth and a fine locker room presence the Bucs aren't likely to release anytime soon.
QUINCY BLACK (Backup)
STATISTICS: 9 tackles in two games. Also made 17 special teams tackles for the season.
ANALYSIS: In his limited appearances against San Francisco and Carolina, Black appeared to be on the same page with most of the defense. But he really showed off his superb speed on special teams all season, where he became the unit's third-leading tackler. He made several big plays in coverage, including a solo tackle late in the season that caused a fumble and turnover. He showed on special teams that he has some big play potential.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He'll count $576,000 against the salary cap. But he'll be hard pressed to find playing time behind June. He'll be most valuable on special teams.
ADAM HAYWARD (Backup)
STATISTICS: 6 tackles in two games. He also made 11 special teams tackles.
ANALYSIS: Hayward seemed to be a bit lost in his first significant appearance against San Francisco. But he rebounded a bit against Carolina. He made more of an impact on special teams and spent most of the year learning from watching Brooks.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He'll count $395,000 against the salary cap and will be Brooks' immediate backup.
ANTOINE CASH (Backup, finished on IR)
STATISTICS: Did not play. He was injured against Jacksonville in preseason and went on injured reserve.
ANALYSIS: Cash likely would have been a backup and special teams standout had he remained healthy.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's a restricted free agent, meaning the Bucs have the right to match any offers Cash might receive.
SAM OLAJABUTU (Backup, finished on IR)
STATISTICS: Did not play. He was injured in preseason and placed on injured reserve.
ANALYSIS: Olajabutu made some nice plays in preseason, but nothing more.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: The Bucs own his rights, but at the moment he is unsigned.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.