Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers will try to rewrite Tampa Bay Buccaneers history. Mason Foster will simply try to repeat it.
While Clayborn and Bowers, the Buccaneers' first two picks in the 2011 NFL Draft, could give the team an unprecedented pair of edge rushers, Foster has a rich history of Tampa Bay linebackers to follow…and the talent to succeed in that effort.
The Buccaneers made Foster their third-round selection on Friday night, nabbing the extraordinarily productive linebacker with the 84th overall choice. The pick concluded an early-round run on defense that is expected to give the NFL's youngest team the defensive firepower to match the recent renaissance on offense, led by 22-year-old quarterback Josh Freeman.
"We went back to defense three straight times and we stayed consistent with our theme in terms of captains and productive players," said General Manager Mark Dominik after the Foster selection. "When you talk to other clubs, when you talk to scouts, when you talk to coaches, these guys are pure football players, guys that are really going to help this football team win games. We do believe in defense here. We do understand that defense wins championships and I think Josh Freeman is just as excited about our defensive picks as he would be offensive picks."
Foster was a tackling machine at the University of Washington, racking up an incredible 378 stops over four seasons and 50 games. He never missed a game during his Huskies career and by his senior season was the heart and soul of Washington's defense. Like Clayborn and Bowers, he served as a team captain, something the Buccaneers have identified as a very encouraging factor in their scouting efforts.
The Buccaneers fielded a young linebacking corps in 2010, with second-year starters Quincy Black and Geno Hayes joining middle man Barrett Ruud. All three players had fine seasons and could return in 2011, but Foster will add firepower to the group no matter how it is constituted. Buccaneers history, which includes several eras of defensive dominance (late 70s-early 80s and mid 90s-mid 00s), is replete with outstanding linebackers, from Derrick Brooks to Hardy Nickerson to Batman Wood.
That's not news to Foster. Despite growing up in California, the Seaside native idolized Brooks during his childhood.
"He is my favorite player of all time," said Foster. "Just the way he played football, the way he made plays for his team. Herman Edwards, from Seaside, California, [was also] close to the Buccaneers, so I have always had connections with the Bucs. It's something I look forward to-going down to Tampa Bay and doing whatever I can to help the team win."
As a senior in 2010, Foster amassed an incredible 163 tackles, 106 of them solo stops. He ranked second in the nation in both overall tackles per game (12.58) and solo tackles per game (8.08) and hit double digits in stops in all but one of Washington's outings.
Primarily an outside linebacker with the Huskies, the 6-2, 242-pound Foster is considered versatile enough to man any of the three spots in the Buccaneers' 4-3 front. He is also an intriguing option as a pass-rusher off the edge, as evidenced by his 6.5 sacks in 2010.
"I think the great thing about Mason Foster is the fact that he is versatile. We see he can play outside, he can play the WILL, he can play the SAM, he certainly can play the MIKE, he can play any one of them. We have confidence because of his mental aptitude to be able to handle any one of those positions. So right now we're going to classify him just as a linebacker."
A productive and instinctive player, Foster was considered a potential second-round pick by many analysts and his selection continues the Bucs' 2011 theme of impressive value in the first three days. Clayborn was reportedly targeted by several teams in the second half of the first round and Bowers was predicted by many to be Tampa Bay's pick a round earlier than they got him.
Like the Bucs' first two picks, Foster could fit immediately into the Buccaneers' plans in 2011. Dominik described him as instinctive, physical and a powerful tackler. The Bucs' general manager was also impressed with Foster's skills in coverage, which were evident in 2009 when he picked off three passes and returned them for 109 yards and a touchdown.
"He really knows how to find the football," said Dominik. "He's got a nose for the football. He knows how to run and attack. He understands angles, pursuit angles, which are really important. The guy's good in coverage. That's where you get all these interceptions from. This guy's a very productive player and he's going to be a key member of this defense as we move forward."
Foster will help wherever he is required.
"I feel good at any linebacker position," he said. "Weakside is the position I led the PAC-10 in [tackles in for] two years, my sophomore and senior years. Playing 'SAM' is something I played in my junior year and I had a successful year, so I feel like any position that they put me at, I am willing to play. I want to help the team win no matter what it takes."
The Bucs were obviously prepared to inject more talent into their defense, no matter what it cost in draft assets. And if Foster proves to be a steal in the third round, that will only make the team feel better about using their first two picks on pass-rushers. As it turns out, Foster is well-acquainted with both Clayborn and Bowers and, now that they're teammates in Tampa, he is extremely excited about what they can accomplish together.
"You get those guys in front of you, it frees you up to make a lot of plays," said Foster. "I feel like it is going to be a really good defense. [There is] a lot of young talent on the team and great coaches. I feel like we are going to wreak havoc."