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BURDEN FALLS ON UNPROVEN RUUD

At the time of Shelton Quarles' release, much of the focus was on the middle linebacker's many great moments over the past 10 years. Almost unnoticed was the guy replacing him.

His name is Barrett Ruud. Remember him?

He has never made a Pro Bowl like Quarles. He has never posted 100-plus tackles in a season like Quarles (five times). But those are the shoes Ruud must fill as the anointed starter.

A second-round pick from Nebraska in 2005, Ruud has had the luxury of watching and learning from ironman Quarles while other early-round picks from that draft have played pivotal roles.

Running back Cadillac Williams, the first-round pick, has become central to the offense. Tight end Alex Smith, the third-round choice, has played a critical role in two-tight end sets. And guard Dan Buenning, a fourth-rounder, has started 23 games in two seasons.

Then there's Ruud, whose time in the spotlight has been limited mostly to preseason games in which he often endeared himself to fans with his hustle. But what happens in August is quite different from the 17 weeks that follow, when opposing coaches dig deeper into their playbooks.

Soon, we'll know if Ruud, 24 on May 20, is up to the task. He did start five games last season in place of an injured Quarles. But playing week after week at a position central to the Tampa 2 defense is far more daunting.

In the Bucs' scheme, the middle linebacker is responsible for relaying the calls from the sideline.

The middle linebacker also must help make adjustments before the snap based on what the offense shows not to mention pass coverage responsibilities in the middle of the field.

All something a smart football player can handle. But don't discount what it means to have a new player doing that job. Quarles spoke recently about how he and Derrick Brooks often could communicate without saying a word. They just gave each other "the look."

So at the very least, there is likely to be a transition period. But with any luck, perhaps Tampa Bay soon will be speaking about Ruud in the same glowing terms it used to describe his predecessor.

KELLY NOT EXPECTED: The Bucs return to the field this week with another slate of voluntary workouts. Attendance should be pretty good, but no one seems to expect cornerback Brian Kelly to show.

Kelly, who has expressed displeasure with his contract, skipped workouts last month and isn't expected until the mandatory minicamp next month. If he shows then, a holdout seems unlikely.

SIMS TRIMS DEAL: Defensive tackle Ryan Sims, acquired from the Chiefs on May 1, apparently has agreed to a significant restructuring of his contract.

He was under contract through 2009 with $5.7-million in base salary remaining. But the union salary database shows him under contract through this fall with a base salary of $595,000.

The database does not show incentives, signing bonuses or other potential income. But at the very least, the final two years of the deal appear to have been voided.

It's likely Sims didn't have much of a choice. It was probably made clear before the trade he would have to agree to rework the deal.

This makes the trade for the underachieving 2002 No. 6 overall pick a very low-risk proposition.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3377.

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