What does Bucs' interest in Sturdivant say what about Ruud?
The Bucs are reportedly hosting University of North Carolina inside linebacker prospect Quan Sturdivant for a visit today.
A projected early-second round to third round choice, Sturdivant is one of the top linebackers available in the draft. From that standpoint, it's certainly no surprise the Bucs would take a closer look at the player.
But there's a bigger picture here. As you probably realize, starting middle linebacker Barrett Ruud is expected to become a free agent when the current NFL work stoppage ends, and that could present the Bucs with a very big hole in the middle of their defense this fall. Whether you like Ruud or not -- fans are deeply divided on his value to the team -- his departure would leave an undeniable void.
General manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris realize this, and they have to proceed as if it's possible Ruud won't be on the roster in 2011 -- whether via a decision made by the Bucs or Ruud.
It seems this has been on the team's collective mind for a while, too. You might recall around this time last year we were telling you about the Bucs' interest in former University of Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes. Ultimately, they didn't select him and Spikes went to the Patriots in the second round.
This year, Sturdivant and likely some other inside linebackers are on Tampa Bay's roster. Sturdivant could be someone the Bucs consider with their second-round pick, which is 51st overall pick and 19th in the round.
We should point out that, technically, the Bucs aren't necessarily obligated to draft a middle linebacker. They do have former University of South Florida standout Tyrone McKenzie on the roster, though we saw very little of him last season beyond special teams. But maybe he's capable of becoming a long-term answer in the middle if the opportunity and/or need arises. The Bucs also have a possible option in Adam Hayward, a career backup to this point who knows the middle linebacker position. But, like Ruud, Hayward is also a free agent. Of course, he'll be much easier to retain because his salary expectations won't be in Ruud's stratosphere.
Still, you have to think the Bucs are really spending considerable time thinking about middle linebacker because they have to. Maybe they'll find their solution on draft day, maybe not.
Whatever they decide, it's likely the choice won't be an easy one.