Barrett Ruud has to be the single most divisive player on the team right now. Is he a bum who's afraid of contact? Is he a cerebral player who's great in coverage? Is he the reason the run defense is bad? Is he just doing his job, but limited by the players around him? Or is he a consistent producer who gets the defense into the right calls quite consistently?
JoeBucsFan talked to Pat Kirwan about Ruud, and Kirwan's pretty clear on Ruud: he's a star.
Well, first he lines up everyone up on the defense. There are a lot of guys who play well but can’t line up. So he is the quarterback of the defense. No. 2 he is terrific in his zone drops. He’s smart and he understands the defense. He’s never going to be flashy. I can look at that defense and find four or five guys who would collapse mentally if he is not out there with them. He’s the quarterback.
Kirwan makes a couple of good points: the Tampa 2 was never built around a hardnosed, run-stuffing MLB but around an athletic MLB who is good in coverage, like Barrett Ruud. Barrett Ruud is indeed the quarterback of the defense who makes all the on-field calls, and by all accounts he does a good job at that. So are fans who want that physical presence in the middle out of luck, because that's not what this defense is ever going to do?
Well, I wouldn't be so sure. Raheem Morris has been running this defense differently from earlier years. Barrett Ruud has been asked to creep up to the line with some regularity, the Bucs have blitzed a lot more than they used to, and they started using a 3-3-5 on third down. Raheem Morris isn't scared to ask his players to play man coverage if they can, and I believe that if he has another corner of Talib's quality he would radically change his defense. In the last game of the season they even ran some straight-up 3-4 with Ruud and McKenzie as the inside linebackers. The Tampa 2 is still the base defense, but the Bucs are flexible and multiple in what they do, and try to tailor their defense to their players' strengths.
I'm also not too convinced that Ruud's football knowledge is that essential. That kind of inteligence comes from tape study, and lots of it. But even if Barrett Ruud watched more tape than anyone in the building, someone else on the defense can adopt that role if he leaves. And the middle linebacker isn't the only one who can take up that role although he's generally in the best position to do so.
In the end, I think Ruud is not a bad player. He's a consistent performer, he's always in his gap and on his assignments and he's always fighting to get to the play if he isn't there. But I also think he's a replaceable player who is not essential to this defense.