On Wednesday, the Buccaneers named their five captains for the 2010 season: Josh Freeman and Jeff Faine on offense; Barrett Ruud and Ronde Barber on defense; and Andrew Economos on Special Teams. These are players who have earned the respect of their coaches and teammates and, for the most part, the fans. After all, who doesn't high five and talk about the old times when Ronde Barber makes a splash play? Who doesn't talk optimistically about the future when Josh Freeman hits on a beautiful deep ball? Who doesn't cheer RUUUUUUUDDDDD when Barrett Ruud makes a tackle 7 yards downfield?
It's the latter I want to talk about a little bit.....
Barrett Ruud impressed everyone in 2007 with a solid performance that ranked him in the top-10 for LB in stop rate % against the run. Behind Jovan Haye and a still-productive Chris Hovan the interior of the defense was well-protected. He excelled in coverage, making splash plays like a third safety in the middle of the field. He had the flexibility to read the play free of blockers and roll to the football. He was certainly a fish in water.
However, following a down 2nd half to the 2008 season and a painful 2009 campaign, Barrett Ruud remains a somewhat unkown commodity and one without a contract extension in the face of a Buccaneer front office that's shown it's willing to lock up players it feels are fits with its future. What does the team have in the middle of the field? Does it have a guy who's a victim of poor play around him? Is Barrett Ruud not physical enough of a player, or a "thumper" as some call it, to handle the MLB position as some people have mused?
One thing is for sure....Barrett Ruud has plenty of reason to show that he's a leader on the field this fall. Forget being named a captain....he's already a player that young guys are going to look at because of the length of his service on this defense. It's that leadership on and off the field and his play that will determine whether or not Ruud gets his payday that he's longed for, and the respect as a solid inside linebacker that's eluded him the past couple of seasons.
Based on what I've seen early out of this defense, the excuses for poor play are disappearing. For those who point to the system around Ruud as the main culprit, he has a pair of young Tampa Towers and an admittedly leaner and faster Roy Miller manning the interior of the defensive line. The secondary should be solid again this season, with Sean Jones increasing the range from the SS position and Biggers and Mack putting together nice preseasons to compliment Talib, Ronde, and Tanard Jackson.
Most importantly to me, he needs to show me he's able and willing to step into the hole, blow up a blocker, and shut the play down near the line. This team needs to rediscover a level of physicality that the league's top defenses have, and that starts with Barrett on Sunday against the Browns.