FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Buccaneers MLB Mason Foster is entering his third year in the league. Even after all that time and with so many younger players around him the Bucs defense he says he still doesn’t feel like a veteran.
“I feel like I’m a little bit seasoned, because I know a lot of the little things, but it’s only my second year with these coaches, so I still feel like I’ve got a long way to go,’’ Foster said.
Foster came to the Bucs as a third-round draft pick out of Washington during Raheem Morris’s reign, and he made an almost immediate impact, leveling then Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco with an eye-popping hit.
That hit earned Foster not only a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty but a hefty fine that, for more than a year, seemed to take a lot of the destroy out of his seek and destroy style of play.
Three years later, though, Foster is showing signs of getting back to his old familiar style and one of the things that’s taking him there is the academic approach to football that he’s learned under new coach Greg Schiano.
“I’ve definitely become more of a student of the game under Coach Schiano and (assistant defensive coordinator) Bob Fraser, and also with (strength and conditioning coach Jay Butler] as far as getting stronger,’’ Foster said.
“I feel like I definitely [have] a better feel for the game mentally now, and being bigger and faster and stronger helps me a lot to play more my style. The key now is to just put it all together.’’
Foster badly needed to have a better mental feel for the game. A year ago, for example, he often got lost in pass coverage, and Schiano says his mistakes in that critical area had nothing to do with his physical assets.
“I actually think he’s a pretty good cover guy,’’ Schiano said of Foster. “Where he got in trouble coverage wise (last year) wasn’t technique or skill, it was assignment.
“Now, it’s hard to say why was that was if you don’t know exactly what he was supposed to do, but I can tell you that when he knows what he’s doing in coverage, he’s pretty good.’’
AT THE CORNER OF EASY STREET
Schiano broke into the NFL coaching ranks as a secondary coach with the Bears back in 1998, and he believes cornerback is the easiest position for an NFL rookie such as the Bucs Johnthan Banks to play.
“Now, when I say easiest (I mean that) assignment-wise, cornerback is the easiest,’’ Schiano said. “Physically, it’s by far the hardest job next to quarterback, on the field.
“You’re covering the best athletes in the world and they know where they’re going and you don’t. So that’s a tall order. But assignment-wise that’s the easiest [position] on the defense.
“And we’ve talked about that so many times. When you’re not certain what you’re doing (it) takes a great player and makes them good; it takes a good one and makes them average and you just keep chopping it down.
“The thinking process slows down the physical (skills), so the more you feel comfortable with (the assignments) and feel that you know it, the faster you’re going to be able to play.”
WHAT IT MEANS
Bucs Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy has taken on a bit of a player/coach role this preseason. In an effort to make the Bucs rookie defensive linemen better faster he’s been holding pre-workout coaching sessions in which he’s passing on some of the technique tips he’s picked up during his three years in the league.
One of McCoy’s students, rookie DE Steven Means, says the sessions have quickly paid a huge dividend.
“It’s been fantastic,’’ said Means, the Bucs fifth-round draft pick. “When I first came here I only had a couple of pass rush moves and Gerald really took one of those and fine tuned it up for me, and since then I’ve been able to beat a couple of the starters in scrimmages and stuff.
“It was really just some little stuff that he showed me. Just a little bit of feet placement, arm movement, how to get my hips through. When I threw that move before, I tended to stop my feet and wasn’t getting my hips around. Gerald taught me to stay close and swing my hips when I came through and that’s really helped me.’’