TAMPA — When coach Raheem Morris took over the Bucs' defensive coordinator role, LB Barrett Ruud became one of the bigger benefactors.
Morris gave Ruud — whom he calls the "quarterback of the defense"— more freedom to change calls at the line. And it paid off with one of Ruud's better games (11 tackles, one forced fumble) against Atlanta on Sunday. Ruud said Monte Kiffin gave him that autonomy when Kiffin was defensive coordinator, and he had a little less under recently demoted coordinator Jim Bates.
"I like having a little more control to check out of defenses to put us in different calls because it kind of keeps me on my toes and keeps me a little more locked in to what everybody's job is and also what my job is," Ruud said. "And if you can get into a better defense against a certain look, it's always going to be beneficial."
Morris cited examples of Ruud successfully checking out of defensive calls in the red zone, and another when he found himself set to cover Falcons future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.
"He came to the sidelines and said, 'Hey, let's switch this up. Let's go 46, I'll take the back and we'll put (Aqib) Talib on Tony Gonzalez,' " Morris said. "It was a kind of a me and Barrett idea. It was great communication."
Ruud said the communication started earlier in the week with a one-on-one meeting with Morris, who also gave the call sheet with planned defensive plays to Ruud, CB Ronde Barber and LB Niko Koutouvides (the backup middle linebacker) Saturday night. Morris said Ruud was a "different player" on Sunday.
"He had 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a tackle for loss — a couple of those splash (plays) that we haven't been seeing from him," Morris said.
NEW GUY: P Sam Paulescu, signed Tuesday to replace injured Dirk Johnson, is no stranger to Bucs kick returner Clifton Smith, whom he welcomed to the NFL last season with a big hit on Smith's first punt return Oct. 26 in Dallas.
"I know the guys have been kind of giving him a hard time, messing with him a little bit," Paulescu said, smiling. "I told this to everybody, I said, 'Look, I might have nailed him, but it hurt me more than it hurt him.' My neck for the next four days, I was hurting."
Paulescu, 25, has been out of football for most of this season, playing in one game for the Redskins after spending last year with the Cowboys. He has averaged 42.4 yards in 61 career attempts.
INJURY REPORT: Several Bucs are banged up, with the biggest concern likely is at cornerback. Talib, who left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, was limited Wednesday.
Losing Talib would be a big blow to an injury-depleted secondary that faces Panthers WR Steve Smith. Backup CB Torrie Cox was placed on injured reserve Monday. Elbert Mack is coming off a severe ankle sprain that has slowed him for several weeks. On Monday, the Bucs promoted CB Brandon Anderson from the practice squad. Also limited were DL Michael Bennett (toe), DT Roy Miller (ankle), OT Donald Penn (knee), DE Stylez White (hand), TE Kellen Winslow (knee), WR Maurice Stovall (thigh) and RB Cadillac Williams (coaches decision). WR Michael Clayton did not participate (knee).
MISCELLANY: Morris said Bates will "more than likely" go to the Carolina game Sunday in an as-yet undetermined role.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org