While Tyrone McKenzie was the starting middle linebacker early in training camp, it appears that Mason Foster is now taking over. The third-round draft pick out of Washington has been the starting middle linebacker in practice since yesterday. This should be no surprise for anyone familiar with the NFL: draft picks always get a leg up when the competition is close, as the team has invested more in a drafted player.
In his press conference, Raheem Morris downplayed this as giving Mason Foster a shot to win the job. "It's hard to say the job is his," said the Bucs' head coach. "You've got to go through the bullets, you've got to go through the games and you've got to go out there and prove yourself. But you want to give him an opportunity to go out there and win it."
It sounds like that's exactly what the Bucs are doing, and if it's close between Tyrone McKenzie and Mason Foster, the draft pick will undoubtedly win out. The fact that the Bucs have taken the middle linebacker off the field in nickel situations so far certainly helps Mason Foster, as rookies tend to struggle in coverage. Whoever wins the job will not be asked to play on passing downs, and it would have been difficult for Foster to beat out a third-year player like McKenzie on passing downs.
Interestingly, Raheem Morris also keeps mentioning undrafted linebacker Derrell Smith as being in the conversation at middle linebacker. I have a very hard time believing he can even threaten to take the starting job, but it sounds like the Bucs are set on at least carrying him on the roster.