Rookie LB Barrett Ruud has long been a fan of the Buccaneers' defense
Barrett Ruud, the 36th player selected in last weekend's NFL Draft, admits that he would have found something to like about any town to which the process sent him. For instance, had he lasted nine more picks to the Seattle Seahawks (who did, for the record, take the next inside linebacker):
"I could say I like grunge bands or something," said Ruud.
Extrapolating, we can assume that he would have extolled the virtues of Broadway musicals to the New York media, shared his love of barbecue with the Kansas City press and asked for skiing lessons from the Denver locals.
But before we give you the wrong idea, Ruud, while obviously an optimistic sort, really does love Tampa.
Mostly, he loved the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska. If that doesn't seem intuitive, remember that Ruud was only 12 in 1995 and that the Bucs were then in the early stages of building one of the best defenses in the modern NFL era. Linebacker Derrick Brooks was drafted that year, and linebacker Hardy Nickerson had already spent several years tackling everybody in sight for an otherwise struggling team.
These were on-field role models for Ruud, and he loved their aggressive play. The Chiefs or Broncos might have been a closer choice, but Ruud latched on to that Buccaneer defense. Now he is part of that defense, and he'd rather be there than sipping a latte in Seattle or buying a snow shovel in Buffalo.
"This was my favorite team growing up," he said. "I've always loved Tampa, at least since the late '90s. So I'm excited to be here. It's a great place to live. Instead of going on Spring Break I can just live here all year around."
Ruud arrived in Tampa for his first Florida "vacation" on Thursday evening and was immediately put to work. Along with the other 49 rookies and first-year players in for a three-day mini-camp, Ruud got right into the playbook Thursday night and hit One Buccaneer Place before daybreak on Friday for classwork. There wasn't any dance music, and the cameras belonged to the team's video department in their scissor lifts instead of MTV.
There will be time to explore what Florida has to offer later, hopefully many times during a long career as a Buccaneer. This weekend, it's all football, and that's fine with Ruud, who plans to work his way into a prominent role.
Asked what Ruud thought made him a successful linebacker, he said: "I think, quickness, agility, instincts and just studying, work habits. I think that's what makes a lot of good linebackers, really. There are only a couple freaks around the league, so basically it's how hard you're going to work and how much you're going to study to learn plays and get tendencies."
Ruud may be downplaying his talents a bit, but his approach is likely to lead to success. The best players in the league, such as the Hall of Fame-bound Brooks, combine innate skill with relentless work. The Bucs have several examples along these lines in addition to Brooks, including linebacker Shelton Quarles, cornerback Ronde Barber and defensive end Simeon Rice. Ruud watched many of them growing up, and now he can emulate them from a very close vantage point.
"I'm just a guy who is hoping he's going to fit in, because it's one of the best corps in the league," he said. "Hopefully, I can just learn from these guys and get plugged in where I'm needed."
Where that is has yet to be determined. His long-term future may be at middle linebacker, where he has always played, but that's still occupied by Quarles, the former Pro Bowler. Ruud has the skills to take on any of the three roles. The weakside spot is still rather adequately filled by Brooks, but the strongside position is up for grabs after the departure of Ian Gold. There are several other very good candidates for that starting spot, however, including Jeff Gooch, Ryan Nece and Marquis Cooper.
"Hopefully I can contribute as early as possible," said Ruud. "Obviously, all linebackers are going to play special teams, so I'll do that. Hopefully I can get on the field, if not in the middle then hopefully on the strongside, too."
With only newcomers on the field this weekend, Ruud is playing mostly middle linebacker, though he plans to study up immediately on the strongside as well. He knows it is valuable to learn all three linebacker positions in the Buccaneer defense, and his years of being a Buc fan give him plenty of evidence in that regard. For instance, he surely noticed when Quarles moved from his starting strongside spot to the middle in 2002 and soon won a Super Bowl ring and a Pro Bowl berth.
"He's an everyday, physical presence on our defense and he's going to be a guy who learns our system quickly and will be a real good, instinctive player," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "[He's a] good tackler and he's got good size in the middle of our defense."
The goal, says Ruud, is simply to become a good player, so the Bucs will find a role for him as soon as possible.
"Right now I guess you'd probably say I would be a middle linebacker who can play the strong," he said, "but maybe if I play it real well I can be just any kind of linebacker."