Two of the Bucs' better defensive players are linebackers. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led the team in tackles for the third straight season with 205. He signed a one-year restricted free agent tender Wednesday but has no assurance of a long-term future with the club. Weakside linebacker Geno Hayes was a bright spot last season. He had a team-high 14 tackles for loss and registered 144 stops in his first season as a starter. He was seen as a backup during preseason, when safety Jermaine Phillips was working as a linebacker. Strongside linebacker Quincy Black didn't have the hoped-for impact as a first-year starter. He'll be more suited to the style of defense that coach Raheem Morris is implementing, but Black figures to have competition after the re-signing of Angelo Crowell, who spent last season on injured reserve. Beyond that, the depth basically consists of Adam Hayward, special-teams ace Niko Koutouvides and newcomer Jon Alston.
What they're looking for
Whereas this time last year, the Bucs were looking for bulkier linebackers suited to run former coordinator Jim Bates' scheme, they are now playing a system that more resembles their traditional Tampa 2. That means they like their linebackers lean and fast, though they would like to get a bit bigger on defense. Another desired quality at linebacker is the playmaking ability they once enjoyed with Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and others. They could use depth, but this position doesn't figure to be one they address in early rounds.
Fitting the bill
They probably aren't in play for the highest-ranked linebacker prospects, such as Alabama's Rolando McClain and Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon. Though the Bucs haven't been linked to him, Florida State's Dekoda Watson is a mid-round prospect who fits their linebacker profile. He has a slender build and is considered undersized by some at 240 pounds but has tremendous speed and would be a good gang tackler. He is similar to Bucs weakside linebacker Geno Hayes, another FSU product. Miami's Daryl Sharpton (6 feet, 236 pounds), likely a middle linebacker, could find a place in Tampa Bay's system.
Top 10 prospects
|Player, vital STATS||Comment|
|1. ILB Rolando McClain, Alabama, 6-4, 249||Two-time All-SEC and '09 All-American|
|2. OLB Sergio Kindle, Texas, 6-3, 250||Projects as a 3-4 OLB|
|3. ILB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri, 6-1, 239||Pure playmaker in the middle|
|4. ILB Sean Lee, Penn State, 6-2, 236||Team captain; seven pass breakups in '09|
|5. ILB Donald Butler, Washington, 6-1, 248||15½ tackles for loss last season|
|6. OLB Ricky Sapp, Clemson, 6-4, 252||College DE projects to pro OLB|
|7. ILB Brandon Spikes, Florida, 6-3, 249||Has drawn interest from Tampa Bay|
|8. OLB Koa Misi, Utah, 6-3, 251||Junior college transfer said to have upside|
|9. OLB Eric Norwood, South Carolina, 6-1, 245||Solid rusher had 29 career sacks|
|10. ILB Daryl Sharpton, Miami, 6-0, 236||Plays fast; 106 tackles last season|
Look for the Bucs to draft a linebacker in the middle or late rounds who can develop and provide depth. A middle linebacker is likely with Ruud's long-term status in doubt.
Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer