LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) -The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have always felt Barrett Ruud was tailor-made for their defense.
Big and strong enough to stop the run, agile and quick enough to cover tight ends and running backs in passing situations, and mature enough to handle the mental aspects of playing middle linebacker.
The Bucs selected Ruud in the second round in 2005 - No. 36 overall - with expectations that he would eventually replace Shelton Quarles, whose retirement this year created an opening earlier than some people anticipated.
Ruud, who started five games last season, is ready to make the most of the opportunity.
``I think last year I was always kind of in the mind-set of don't (mess) anything up. `You're in here, but you're not in here the whole time, you're in here to make sure the defense keeps running,''' Ruud said.
``Now it feels more relaxed, you just go play. You're going to make mistakes, but you don't have to worry about looking over your shoulder. You just go out, make plays and don't worry about the consequences. ... It's more of a comfort level knowing that it's my job now as opposed to kind of filling in for a little bit.''
Quarles, who accepted a job with the Bucs a job as a pro scout last week, played 10 seasons for Tampa Bay and finished his career as the franchise's fourth-leading tackler.
Although 10-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks always has been the unquestioned leader of the defense, Quarles ran the huddle and relayed defensive calls from the sideline.
Now it's Ruud's turn.
His biggest contribution as a rookie came on special teams, however the Bucs were encouraged by the way he responded with Quarles in and out of the lineup at various times in 2006.
``He's a good middle linebacker with a chance to become outstanding,'' coach Jon Gruden said.
``We've got to play great around him, too. The other linebackers have got to play great. Up front, we've got to play great. Our safety people and our corners - we've all got to step up. But Barrett Ruud is going to be a leader here, and he is asserting himself right now.''
A knee bruise has kept the 24-year-old off the practice field the past two days, but Gruden said Monday that he remains hopeful Ruud - one of four projected new starters on defense - will play some in Friday's preseason opener against New England.
Monday's injury report on another new starter, offensive tackle Luke Petitgout was not encouraging. He's missed a week of practice with a sore back and is not expected to play against the Patriots.
``He's not quite ready to go. ... Our goal will be to get him ready for our second preseason game,'' Gruden said.
The coach said Ruud may return to practice as early as Tuesday. In his absence, Ryan Nece, Antoine Cash and third-round draft pick Quincy Black have been filling in at middle linebacker.

Recent NFL Discussions

Pick Wiz Play 1/15 on Mon, Jan 2017 by Michael Cash
2nd half play ne/hou on Mon, Jan 2017 by Strakey
NFL Championship Betting News and Notes on Mon, Jan 2017 by Blade
Public buries sports books on Mon, Jan 2017 by Blade
NFL WKEND SIDES &OV/UN 8-0 on Mon, Jan 2017 by armyranger
Advertisement

Top NFL Public Bets

NFL Top Stories

Thumbnail Updated Super Bowl LI Betting Odds And then there were four. What are the odds of the four remaining teams to win this year's Super Bowl?
Thumbnail Pats Open as 6-Point Faves vs. Steelers The Patriots will host the Steelers in the 2017 AFC Championship Game and have opened as nearly touchdown favorites for next Sunday's...
Thumbnail Falcons open as favorites vs. Pack The Falcons will host the Packers in the 2017 NFC Championship Game, where Atlanta has opened as a small favorite.
Thumbnail Steelers vs. Chiefs Prediction Will the Steelers cover as a small road underdog tonight when they visit the Chiefs at 8:20PM ET in the NFL Divisional round of the playoffs?
Thumbnail Steelers vs. Chiefs Odds The second round of the NFL playoffs conclude tonight when the Kansas City Chiefs host the Pittsburgh Steelers at...
Advertisement

NFL Team Pages