For the past four seasons, Barrett Ruud was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting middle linebacker, calling all the defensive sets.
If he does not return to the team in 2011 – remarks by Bucs general manager Mark Dominik cast doubt on whether the unrestricted free agent is in the team's future plans – Tampa Bay will need to find more than just a new leading tackler.
They'll need a new defensive quarterback.
The Bucs take the practice field today for the first time since January's season-ending win at New Orleans. Without Ruud, someone else must receive communication from the sideline and call plays in the huddle.
Who will it be?
That's a lot of responsibility for rookie Mason Foster, a third-round draft pick from Washington. He would need to know not only his own assignment, but everyone else's in the front seven.
Outside linebacker Quincy Black agreed to terms earlier this week on a five-year, $29 million contract. Could he be the new captain of the defense?
Veteran cornerback Ronde Barber is on the field for nearly every defensive snap and certainly knows the scheme. Could he be an option, or is he too far from the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped?
Given the uncertainty and inexperience at the middle linebacker position, it's still possible Ruud could return if he's willing to accept what Bucs general manager Mark Dominik offers, which is unlikely to be the long-term deal he has sought for nearly three years. He may be the best available option.
Or perhaps a veteran free agent, such as Stephen Tullock (Tennessee), Kirk Morrison (Jacksonvillle) and Nick Barnett (Green Bay) could be the answer.
Who do you trust to calls the defensive plays for the Bucs?