Each week Bucsblitz.com will take you inside the top matchup from that week's game. We're not talking about a thumbnail preview. We're going in-depth to show you how this matchup will affect the upcoming game. Today, we tell you which Bucs receiver and which Saints cornerback will deeply impact Sunday's game. Get the scoop right here.
Barrett Ruud first full season as a starter taught him a lot.
The Tampa Bay middle linebacker made the transition last year from backup to starter after sitting behind veteran Shelton Quarles for two years. And he quickly found out what starters were talking about when they said they were "sore."
"A couple of games I found out what everyone was talking about. You wake up on Monday and you don't want to move," Ruud said. "That was good for me to play through an injury. You have to take pride in that. You have to play as close to as good as you can play when you're hurt."
Ruud only missed one game, and that's only because the Buccaneers made him. He sat out the season finale to give his body time to rest before the playoffs. He played with aches and pains all season.
Of course, Ruud was too busy trying to find his comfort zone on the field to worry too much about how sore he was off of it.
"You can take as many practice reps as you want and watch as much film as you want, but until you start playing and see plays happen (you don't know)," he said. "The NFL is a copycat league and a lot of offenses do the same thing. You start to get used to it and get comfortable out there with how you make certain plays, stopping certain running plays."
Ruud got comfortable fast. He was the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after notching 16 tackles, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery against the Saints in Week 2. That helped propel him to NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors in September after he recorded his first career interception and had at least 12 tackles in each of his first three games.
He finished the year with a team-high 169 tackles, production worthy of the player he replaced and of the great Buccaneers linebackers of the past and present.
For Ruud, a second-round draft pick out of Nebraska in 2005, it was a big difference from his first two seasons when he saw little playing time. Because he got so little playing time, friends and family in Nebraska joked with Ruud that he wasn't really in the NFL.
"We have a lot of Midwest games this year and they've definitely caught on to it more now. (They say) ‘Hey, you're playing Kansas City. Do you have 10 tickets for me?' They're definitely into it this year," he said.
Ruud even got to play against his brother, Bo, when the Patriots came to town to face the Buccaneers. The brothers are Nebraska football legacies, as their father, two uncles and their great-grandfather all played for the Huskers.
During the offseason, Ruud worked with head strength and conditioning coach Mike Morris, spent time on hurdles – going under and over –and focused on getting better at changing direction and going different ways using bungee cords to help open his hips.
"The good linebackers have that; I have that but I would like to get better at that, so I worked a lot on that," he said. "The worst part is after you're done with everything, the stretching, because I hate it. I am going to try to stretch every day before this stuff but it is taxing on me."
The Bucs have good depth at the linebacker position this year, Ruud said.
"You never want to come out of the game but I think there is good depth behind us and we have a lot of guys that can play multiple positions which is nice. … It is nice to have the versatility that we have with the linebackers."
Each week Bucsblitz.com's Matthew Postins will analyze the top five issues facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that week. In this opening edition, Postins analyzes the Bucs' player moves, including Eugene Wilson, Sean Mahan and Dan Buenning, along with why the Bucs might be worried just a bit about WR Joey Galloway. Get the scoop right here.