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Wednesday, Oct 18, 2017
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Bucs Beat: LB Foster still in 'middle' of team's plans

TAMPA - Earlier in the offseason, Mason Foster appeared to be a middle linebacker on the move. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a hole opening up at the weakside linebacker spot and, with all his versatility, Foster seemed a good fit to fill it back up again. Now, though, it appears Foster will stay put. After hinting at the idea during a break at the scouting combine in February, general manager Mark Dominik confirmed the plan to keep Foster right where he is after Wednesday's news conference to introduce newly-signed free agents Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright. "We are talking to the (coaches) about Mason Foster being the 'Mike' linebacker of this team," said Dominik, using the common reference for middle linebacker. "I think the coaching staff that has been in here evaluating that tape feels like he has a great opportunity to … stay at the middle linebacker spot."
Foster took on tremendous responsibility as a rookie. The green dot Dominik referred to denotes the lone defensive player whose helmet is equipped with a transmitter, allowing him to hear communication from a member of the coaching staff. As the middle linebacker, Foster received that information and relayed the call to the defense on the field, much the same as the quarterback on offense. The Bucs drafted Foster specifically to be a middle linebacker and he did nothing a year ago to indicate he can't handle the position. The team's plan, however, still leaves them without a weakside linebacker after parting ways with two-year starter Geno Hayes in free agency. Or does it? The Bucs have a couple of options on the roster, not the least of which is Dekoda Watson, a player former head coach Raheem Morris was always looking to better utlilize. "Certainly we have some players who will have the opportunity to (show) what they can do at certain positions,'' said Dominik, who did not completely rule out the possibility of finding a solution in free agency. Dominik indicated the Bucs are all but done shopping, but will keep their eye on the market and could become players again when it "settles down.'' Though they showed a willingness to spend big by paying $140.5 million to get Jackson, Nicks and Wright, the linebacker market didn't have much value early. The Browns' decision to give D'Qwell Jackson, who has played just 22 games the past three seasons, a five-year, $42.5 million contract, skewed the market badly and left a lot of good young linebackers such as Curtis Lofton (Falcons), Erin Henderson (Vikings) and Leroy Hill (Seahawks) on the shelf. In fact, during the first 48 hours of free agency, only two linebackers – Jarrett Johnson (Chargers) and Blake Costanzo (Bears) – changed teams. So, the Bucs weren't the only ones hanging out waiting for the market to become a little more advantageous to the buyer. What all that means for Foster is hard to tell. Clearly, some at One Buc Place would like to see him stay in the middle. But depending upon what the Bucs do in free agency or the draft, he still could be on the move again.

rcummings@tampatrtib.com (813) 259-7979 Twitter: @RCummingsTrib

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