Two years ago the Buccaneers went 10-6. The leading tacklers on the squad were Barrett Ruud (85 tackles, 33 assists) and Geno Hayes (72 tackles, 10 assists).
After the 2010 season, Ruud entered free agency and left Tampa Bay for the Titans.
After the 2011 season, Hayes entered free agency and has left Tampa Bay for the Bears.
Since the retirement of Derrick Brooks in after the 2008 season, Hayes and Ruud were #1 and #2 in tackles until Ruud departed. That's a great deal of production out the door in just two seasons. However, the timing may have been exactly right.
Ruud signed a one year deal with the Tennessee Titans but only played in 9 games before going on injured reserve. He entered free agency again this offseason and was not resigned. Apparently, the Titans fans also were not extremely impressed with his play. Ruud has now signed a one year pact with the Seattle Seahawks. It appears the Buccaneers may have released him for good reason and at an appropriate time.
After starting all 16 games in 2010, Hayes was benched in Week 9 of the 2011 season for three games, making the 2011 season his least productive since his rookie year of 2008. The statistics show a sharp drop-off in performance: appearing in 16 games in 2011, Hayes recorded 45 tackles and 19 assists compared to 72 tackles and 10 assists in 2010 (also 16 games) and 80 tackles and 18 assists in 2011 (his best season and only 15 games). The Bears have given Hayes a one-year contract.
Training camp will open this year with many young faces in the linebacking corps. To replace the productivity above, the Buccaneers have spent three draft picks in two years on linebackers: Mason Foster in 2011 and Najee Goode and Lavonte David in 2012.
Foster was extremely production last season, finishing the season with 58 tackles and 28 assists, leading all NFL rookie linebackers last season. The third rounder (#84 overall) was the third most productive tackler on the Tampa Bay squad last season behind veterans S Sean Jones and CB Ronde Barber. Foster, an extremely productive player in college, has shown flashes of being the type of player you can build around. Clearly, Foster will be on the field for the opening snap of the 2012 NFL season.
Goode and David, drafted with the second and third picks by the Buccaneers this past April, will have to climb past three veterans to reach the starting lineup. Dekoda Watson, Quincy Black, and Adam Hayward all appeared in at least 14 games last season (Watson and Hayward had two starts; Black had 12). These players will have experience on their side when camp opens.
And there will be three new faces: Rennie Curran was a midseason waiver wire pickup last season, Jacob Cutrera was signed last October and finished the season on IR, and Antonio Leak is a 2012 undrafted college free agent from Henderson State (Arkansas, Div II).
Linebacker could be the make-or-break position for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012. They have a lot of experience and productivity to replace. They have a lot of draft picks invested. They play an even front scheme, which means linebackers have to make tackles while the linemen up front take up gaps.
And they need some young players to grow up quickly.