Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Taking the Lead

MLB Barrett Ruud wants to help mold the Bucs' promising defensive elements into another dominant Tampa Bay crew

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Practice has just ended and Barrett Ruud stands just beyond the north end zone of Field #2 at One Buccaneer Place. His helmet is off and held to his side, and his long hair - which seems to have grown as steadily as has his importance to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive success - is plastered to his neck and across his forehead.

He looks like a man who could use a vacation, and he's about to get one. But he won't be away from work long; in fact, he really doesn't plan to stop working at all. That's the plan he's been working on since early in the 2010 calendar year, after he essentially told team management, "I need to have a good year, and you need to have a good year. Let's succeed together."

**

The practice that nearly melted Ruud and his 80-odd teammates at One Buc Place on this typically steamy June afternoon was the penultimate one in the team's entire offseason program. After an afternoon follow-up, mini-camp would be over and a five-week break before training camp would begin. Ruud wasn't about to let any excessive relaxation detract from what he had accomplished over the previous four months.

"Mentally you take a little time off, as far as grinding through your playbook, sure," said one of the NFL's best young middle linebackers. "But physically there's really no time off. You kind of actually step it up a little bit more physically. I go back home and hop right in there with the Nebraska team and work out with them for the month of July. Then I come down here and get ready to go, the mental side and the full thing, for training camp. There's a little bit of a mental break as far as going through your playbook on an everyday basis, but physically you step up even a little more."

Ruud wants to step it up in 2010 after an '09 season that was a conundrum. Statistically, he had a career-high 205 tackles, the second-most by a player in a single season in Bucs history. Overall, however, the Bucs' defense took a brief hiatus from their usual residence in the NFL's top 10, though a late-season surge under the guidance of Head Coach Raheem Morris did a lot to restore team-wide confidence. Ruud never fully agreed that he struggled more than usual under the Jim Bates defense the Bucs played for 10 games, but most agree that he is a natural fit for Morris' more Cover Two-oriented approach. Ruud was a dynamo in that hybrid scheme for the final six games of 2009 and now he thinks a full offseason of installation under Morris will have the whole defense back to its usual perch.

"I think we're more confident this year," said Ruud. "It's Year Two. Year Two in a regime, just like Year Two for a player, is always going to be the biggest jump that you probably make in the NFL. I think we're all excited. We're all a little more comfortable and we all like the direction we're headed. It's night-and-day, I think. We all know what we're supposed to be doing on defense and we all are kind of playing to our strengths this year. We all know where we're supposed to be on the field and guys are getting a chance to make plays, too, so it's a lot of fun."

As far as Morris is concerned, the most important factor for Ruud, if he is to raise his game yet another notch and pull the rest of the Bucs' defense with him, is his leadership. Ruud has been very vocal on the practice field this spring and summer, and he has barked out the play calls and the adjustments with confidence. Ruud, who arrived on a team that included such long-time standouts as Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles, Ronde Barber, Jermaine Phillips and Chris Hovan, is now a full-fledged leader and he knows it. He has not shied away from that responsibility.

"As far as being a middle linebacker, I have to demand that people know what they're doing. "It's a lot of my responsibility to make sure they know what they're doing. Great defense isn't played unless all 11 guys trust each other. You do that by knowing your job and thoroughly understanding your abilities. That's the biggest thing I'm trying to do, get everybody lined up and make sure they know where they're supposed to go."

Morris said Ruud is an extension of the coach on the field, and so the latter has been stressing to his teammates one of former's main messages this offseason: Understand situational football. How will the circumstances of the game at that moment affect what your opponent will do, and what you should be doing? By the time the regular season rolls around, Ruud says, there should be no surprises.

So far so good.

"I think we're going to play really well this year," he said. "I think guys are very confident. We've got a lot of good players across the board. I think we all have a very good understanding of what we need to get done and I think we're going to play well because of it."

And because of him. The Bucs want to reach lofty heights on defense this year. Ruud wants to be the one to lead them there.

**

Tackle King

Barrett Ruud has increased his tackle total every year he's been in the NFL, from seven as a rookie to 59 in his second season to 169 in his first year as a starter, and then to 178 and, last year, a career-high 205. In 2010, Ruud could join Derrick Brooks as the only players in team history to lead the Buccaneers in tackles for four consecutive seasons (Brooks had a run of seven years at the top, from 1998-2004).

Ruud is already the first player in Buc annals to lead the team in tackling for three consecutive seasons while increasing his total each year. He also has the most tackles ever in a three-year span by a Tampa Bay player, a list dominated by his former mentor, Brooks.

Most Tackles in a Three-Year Span by a Buccaneer Player:

Player

Seasons

Total Tackles

Barrett Ruud

2007-09

552

Derrick Brooks

1997-99

551

Derrick Brooks

1998-2000

548

Derrick Brooks

1999-2001

524

Derrick Brooks

2000-02

514

Derrick Brooks

1996-98

504

Derrick Brooks

2003-05

497

Derrick Brooks

2004-06

496

Shelton Quarles

2004-06

495

Derrick Brooks

2002-04

493

Derrick Brooks

2001-03

486

Derrick Brooks

2005-07

484

Hardy Nickerson

1993-95

479

Shelton Quarles

2003-05

469

Richard Wood

1977-79

467

**

Where He's Supposed to Be

Seeking to reestablish the franchise's long-running dominance on the defensive side of the ball, the Buccaneers have restocked that unit in the last four drafts with such players as Geno Hayes, Quincy Black, Tanard Jackson, Aqib Talib, Roy Miller, Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. As a sixth-year player and the quarterback of the defense, Ruud is now a leader on that young and developing squad. In terms of the draft, he is also one of the team's best products of the last decade. In fact, only one defensive player drafted in the entire 2000s has started more games for Tampa Bay than Ruud.

Most Starts by a Defensive Player Drafted by Tampa Bay, 2000-09:

Player

Year Drafted

Career Starts for Bucs

Jermaine Phillips

2002

74

Barrett Ruud

2005

52

Tanard Jackson

2007

44

Dwight Smith

2001

34

Gaines Adams

2007

29

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