TAMPA — Another minor adjustment as the Bucs change defenses under new coach Lovie Smith is that the team's middle linebacker — fourth-year pro Mason Foster — will make the defensive calls, duties handled by weakside linebacker Lavonte David the past two seasons.
"Our (middle) linebacker will make our call," Smith said. "As a general rule, the Mike linebacker, they need to see you out front all the time. … He should do that, just like the quarterback should make the call on offensive side of the ball."
Foster said he welcomes the role in setting up the defense — it's something he did as a rookie in 2011, the year before David arrived, and in college at Washington. "It means a lot, being the leader, getting a chance to look everybody in the eyes before every snap," he said. "I'm excited. We've got a great defense, so it's not going to be hard."
Foster said he often had the microphone in his helmet in practice the last two years, getting signals from coaches to relay to the defense, so he looks forward to having a more vocal role on the field this fall.
"It's one of those things all linebackers have embedded in them," he said.
IT'S A LOVIE THING: Watch a Bucs practice, and you'll see that anytime the ball hits the ground — even on an incomplete pass — defenders will rush to it and scoop it up, just to make a habit of getting to the ball in any circumstance during a game.
"You treat an incomplete pass like it's a fumble," Smith said. "I don't think you get takeaways by chance. It has to be a mindset throughout. I want the defense to constantly be thinking about the ball, picking it up and running with it."
Another cool quirk of practice Thursday: seeing special-teams coach Kevin O'Dea run through punt-block drills with a pair of blue tetherballs, each hanging by a rope from the opposite ends of the crossbar in the end zone. O'Dea swings the ball forward to simulate a punter's delivery as players rush at him, which also saves time tracking down loose balls that have been blocked.
CHANGE ALL AROUND: RT Demar Dotson is a rare holdover from last year's offensive line, with G Davin Joseph and T Donald Penn released and C Jeremy Zuttah traded to the Ravens. He said he misses the players he's lined up with for the past five seasons but also likes the new additions: T Anthony Collins, C Evan Dietrich-Smith and G Oniel Cousins.
"Those guys meant a lot to me — the reason I have the chance to be the player I am today is that those guys taught me a lot," Dotson said. "Those guys were the rock of this offensive line, but it quickly hits you this is a business. It's a blessing I get to stay here going on six years, that they see enough in me to keep me around. … We lost a lot of good guys, but we gained a lot of good guys, also."
Dotson said he continues to be the quiet type, trying to lead by example, but in three days of practice, he's learned that Dietrich-Smith, signed from the Packers as a free agent, is much more of a leader on the offensive line.
"Dietrich-Smith, he does enough yelling for everybody," Dotson said. "I tried to ask him (if) he can calm down a little bit. Nobody needs me trying to yell. That guy does enough."
THIS AND THAT: TE Luke Stocker was back at practice after sitting out Wednesday's drills with an undisclosed injury. He missed most of last season with a hip injury. … Smith continues to be impressed with the speed of RB Jeff Demps, who he said is "definitely the fastest guy in the NFL." He likes Demps' hands, though he said he's been riding the former Olympic sprinter for dropping a deep pass in Wednesday's practice.
TICKETS AVAILABLE: The Bucs put single-game tickets on sale Thursday, one day after the team's 2014 schedule was released. They're available through buccaneers.com, with season tickets starting at $30 per game for adults and $15 per game for children.