Mason Foster had a productive rookie season as the starting middle linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012. He led the team with 126 tackles, added four tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception and obviously soaked up a lot of valuable experience. It's fair to say, though, that Foster turned in a good portion of his most impactful plays during the first third of the season, as the Bucs were firing off to a 4-2 start.
The Buccaneers have since changed coaching staffs, and there was some speculation that new Head Coach Greg Schiano and his crew might consider moving Foster into a different role, perhaps on the weak side. Instead, Foster remains in the middle with the starting unit – he's opened both of the team's two preseason games so far – and is likely to be there on opening day for the second time in as many NFL seasons.
This time around, Foster feels as if he's better prepared for the rigors, physical and mental, of a full NFL campaign.
"Last year, you learned how long the season really is, and you learned how you've just got to come to work each and every day," he said. "You've got to come and do all the right things – take care of your body, study hard. Last year I really just learned how to become a pro and how to get better each and every day. That's what it comes down to, who can finish longer and keep going.
"It's just being the best I can be for this team. If it's making 18 tackles in a game or making one tackle, I just want to be the best person I can be to help this team win. My personal goal is just winning. Whatever I can do to win, that's what I want to do."
In the new defensive scheme under Schiano and coordinator Bill Sheridan, linebackers are asked to play with much more of a "downhill" style than in recent years. That means their initial moves are usually forward, in the direction of the line of scrimmage, and they should be meeting ballcarriers while moving towards the backfield. Schiano has stated that he believes the play of the linebackers will be the most important factor in the team's attempt to improve what was an ineffective run defense last year.
So far, Foster likes both the style of play and the overall scheme under the new staff.
"I feel real comfortable," he said. "I feel confident. I learned a lot from last year. This year, having the offseason, I feel like I'm getting better. I feel like I've got a good grasp on what we're trying to do here. I'm excited."