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Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers will start rookie Mason Foster at middle linebacker

Mason Foster, a third-round pick in April, has the size and instincts the Bucs crave in a starting middle linebacker.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Mason Foster, a third-round pick in April, has the size and instincts the Bucs crave in a starting middle linebacker.

TAMPA — Depth charts usually aren't worth the paper they are printed on in training camp. But when the Bucs' list of starters is released Monday, a few names could be etched in stone.

Rookie Mason Foster will be the starter at middle linebacker.

That decision essentially was made when the team made Foster its third-round pick out of Washington.

Former USF standout Tyrone McKenzie and Derrell Smith, an undrafted rookie from Syracuse, are battling to back him up.

The Bucs love Foster's size (6 feet 1, 240 pounds) and instincts enough to put the responsibility of making all of the defensive calls on his shoulder pads.

"He's doing well. It's hard to say the job is his, and you've got to go through the bullets," coach Raheem Morris said of Foster. "You've got to go through the games. You've got to go out there and prove yourself. But you want to give him an opportunity to win it.

"He is getting some reps with the first group. It's fun."

The consensus opinion is the defense will be vanilla with Foster. But that's not Morris' flavor.

"With Coach Morris' personality, I don't think he would water down anything," said former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks, who watched rookie Jamie Duncan step in at middle linebacker in 1999. "I think he would ask Mason, if he earned that spot, to step up."

Brooks says Foster should take comfort in the fact Morris has had success starting rookies in the past.

"Take the position out of it," Brooks said. "You've had that in this Buccaneers defense the last three years. Some rookies have started and played prominent roles. It shouldn't be different at his position."

Other predictions: Jeremy Trueblood will be the starting right tackle over James Lee. You don't re-sign someone for $10 million over two years to be a backup.

And rookies Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers will be the starting defensive ends.

BLACKOUTS: The organization fired warning shots over the bow of its pirate ship last year about the likelihood of home games being subjected to local television blackouts.

Many fans were put out that such a dire prediction (which came true) would be made before the start of the preseason.

The club is taking a more stealthy approach when it comes to revealing its ticket numbers this year, but it's reasonable to expect most of the seven regular-season and two preseason games will be blacked out.

If single-game ticket sales that commenced Friday are any indication, there could be two exceptions: the Monday night game on ESPN against the Colts on Oct. 3 and the Saturday night game against the Cowboys on the NFL Network on Dec. 17.

Waiting for discipline: Despite the rhetoric coming from the Bucs, they expect commissioner Roger Goodell to levy harsh punishments to the handful of players who violated the league's personal conduct policy during the lockout.

That includes CB Aqib Talib, whose trial on charges of assault with a deadly weapon has been moved to March 2012. The hope is Goodell will wait until Talib has his day in court and allow for the presumption of innocence.

Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers will start rookie Mason Foster at middle linebacker 08/06/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 6, 2011 10:54pm]
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