KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Even inside the walls of One Buc Place, there was a healthy debate on the matter. And well there should have been. Consciously replacing a steady veteran middle linebacker like Barrett Ruud with a rookie third-round draft pick like Mason Foster is rather risky, after all.
This, though, was one roll of the dice the Bucs felt they had to make. They wanted a more physical presence in the middle of their defense, a player who could make almost as many plays as he calls every Sunday, so they crossed their fingers and took a chance.
The early results are hard to argue with. Foster recovered a fumbled snap on his fourth play of the game to set up one score and snuffed out a Kansas City drive with a big third-down play to help set up another in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 25-0 preseason-opening victory over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Friday.
Foster's two plays were just part of a dominant defensive effort, one in which the Bucs forced two first-quarter fumbles, scored a second-quarter safety and limited the Chiefs to 137 yards and six first downs.
"You know, there are a lot of things to improve on, but there are also a lot of things that are really good," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said of his defense. "We came out in our first shot out here, and the guys (played) really hard, fast and consistent. You have to love that."
The Bucs had to love the play of their offense, too. That unit consistently capitalized on the scoring opportunities the defense provided, turning the first takeaway into a touchdown and the second into a field goal before tacking on a late first-half field goal that gave them a 15-0 halftime lead.
The onslaught didn't end there, though. After moving into scoring position but failing to score on a fourth-and-goal play from the 3 at the end of the first half, the Bucs came out and scored on their second possession of the second to extend their lead to 22-0 midway through the third quarter.
"I felt our running game was pretty good," Bucs center Jeff Faine said. "I felt like we could have kept running on them. Granted, it was their second defense out there — none of their starters were out there — but we still had a good time getting the ball and (moving) up and down the field."
Thanks to Foster, the Bucs didn't have to move far for their first score. The rookie's fumble recovery came at the Kansas City 9-yard line after Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel fumbled the snap on a first-and-10 play from the 10. Two plays later, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman ran in from 5 yards out for the Bucs' first score.
"A lot of that (fumble recovery) is a credit to the defensive line," Morris said. "It starts up front to cause that fumble, and then for (Foster) to be able to jump on it, that's the team being ball-aware. That's what we coach and what we teach."
If this game was any indication the Bucs are teaching their players well. On the next series, tackle Al Woods knocked the ball from running back Jackie Battle's hands and safety Sean Jones fell on it at the Kansas City 49 to set up Tampa Bay's second score, a 15-yard Connor Barth field goal.
Foster then snuffed out the Chiefs best drive of the early going, diving along the sideline and stopping quarterback Tyler Palko's scramble 2 yards shy of a first down on a third-and-4 play from the Kansas City 41. Following the ensuing punt, the Bucs drove 52 yards before posting a 40-yard Barth field goal.
"I thought I did well," Foster said of his NFL debut. "I flew around and hustled and made a couple plays. I'm excited; it's a great start. It felt great to get out there and hit a team in another jersey, to play against another team. It has been great for my first NFL experience. I loved it."
Foster wasn't the only one making plays for the Bucs defense. Linebacker Dekoda Watson and defensive end Michael Bennett combined on a sack of Palko in the end zone late in the first half that gave the Bucs a 15-0 halftime lead and backup defensive end Kyle Moore recorded a pair of sacks in the second half. It was Foster and those two turnovers that set the tone, though.
"The two turnovers were huge," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We've been talking a lot since we started in Camp how we didn't cause enough fumbles last year. We've got two this game, so I hope that's a sign of things to come. We have some high expectations for this young unit, so it's encouraging, the way we played this first half.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers