We're evaluating every position on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster to see if the team improved there. Today: linebackers.
2014 roster: Lavonte David, Dane Fletcher, Mason Foster, Danny Lansanah, Orie Lemon, Jason Williams, Jeremy Grable, Brandon Magee, Ka'lial Glaud
2015 roster: Lavonte David, Bruce Carter, Danny Lansanah, Kwon Alexander, Orie Lemon, Jason Williams, Quinton Alston, Larry Dean, Khaseem Greene, Josh Keyes, Jared Koster
Lavonte David is going into his fourth consecutive season as the best linebacker on the Bucs' roster, and the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL. But this will be his first year without middle linebacker Mason Foster, who left for the Chicago Bears in free agency. To replace Foster, the Bucs brought in the hyper-athletic but very inconsistent Bruce Carter, who managed about half of a good season in his four years in Dallas.
That half-season for Carter came last year, and the Bucs hope that that will carry over into his career in Tampa. He'll play in the same system he played in last year, but where he mostly lined up on the outside in Dallas, he'll be asked to man the middle under Lovie Smith. That's a big change for a linebacker with relatively little playing experience. Still, there's an argument that he'll be an improvement over Foster regardless, who struggled to handle the deep coverage responsibilities of the Tampa 2 scheme -- Carter should be better there, as his five interceptions last year weren't entirely a fluke.
Where the Bucs really improved this offseason is linebacker depth, though. They retained last year's breakout player Danny Lansanah, drafted another extremely athletic linebacker in Kwon Alexander, and picked up former fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene off waivers -- yet another quality athlete. That's what the Bucs want at linebacker: players who can run, and run fast. And they've certainly got plenty of those -- even the oversized (for the Bucs anyway) Jason Williams has speed aplenty, and was a dominant special teams player last year.
Still, whether the Bucs improved at the position will come down to just one question: can Bruce Carter adequately replace Mason Foster? Because everyone behind Carter and Foster, as talented as they are, is expendable.