With three heavily contested games in the books and a matchup with Robert Griffin III and the Redskins looming this weekend, the Bucs have an opportunity to not only wrap up the first quarter of the season with a 2-2 record, but also gain a little positive momentum heading into their bye in Week 5.
With two losses by a combined 13 points, the case could be made that the Bucs are a play or two away from sitting at 3-0. Conversely, a case could also be made that they are a play or two away from being 0-3, as well.
Nevertheless, with what we know about the Bucs through the style of play and results we've seen on the field, which player stands out as Tampa Bay's best through Week 3?
That is, whose performances have elevated the club and provided the Bucs with every opportunity to compete thus far?
In other words, who wears the crown for the Bucs?
The candidates are:
Running back Doug Martin
With veteran running back LeGarrette Blount being used sparingly by Coach Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, the rookie from Boise State has taken the lion's share of the carries for Tampa Bay's offense.
Through three games, Martin has 63 carries for 214 yards (3.4 YPC) and a rushing touchdown, as well as six catches for 44 yards.
With Blount seemingly relegated to brief cameo roles—like the 4 carries for 19 yards he had vs. Dallas—the Bucs intend on using Martin to carry the load offensively.
He hasn't quite provided the spark many were hoping for, but given the number of carries he will continue to see, the law of averages suggest Martin is bound to eventually break a game wide open.
Linebacker Mason Foster
The second-year Mike linebacker from Washington is having a fantastic follow-up campaign to an otherwise average rookie season in 2011.
Foster currently leads the team with 26 tackles (24 solo) and has been instrumental in helping the Bucs become the toughest team in the NFL to run against this season, as they are holding teams to a meager 47.3 rushing yards per game. Oh, and he also has a pass defensed and an interception this season.
Furthermore, those 24 solo tackles are tied for second in the NFL.
But perhaps most important of all is that when you turn on the film, Foster is seen flying all over the field. He goes from sideline to sideline, punching into opposing backfields and harassing ball-carriers from whistle to whistle.
With the Bucs looking to regain the physicality they once possessed defensively, Foster will continue to serve as an example of the younger, faster Bucs that the rest of the league will have to account for in the coming years.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy
McCoy is off to the best start of his injury-plagued career, tallying three sacks and a forced fumble already this season.
His three sacks tie the career-best mark from his rookie season.
Much like Foster, McCoy stands as a symbol of who the Bucs are looking to become defensively—big, tough, fast and young.
His two best performances this season—Week 1 and Week 3—are, not coincidentally, the two games in which the Bucs held opposing teams to 26 combined points. McCoy displayed what a relentless, disruptive force against both the run and the pass looks like in both contests.
As always, however, the big question mark is his health. If McCoy can stay healthy and put together a complete 16-game season, the Bucs defense will greatly benefit from his presence.
That is especially true with the recent loss of defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
Of the three players listed above, my choice for best player on the Bucs is linebacker Mason Foster.
He has been an absolute one-man wrecking crew on film, flashing the speed, instincts and tenacity that we all heard about when he was drafted.
Along with rookie Lavonte David, Foster has elevated the status of the Bucs linebackers, turning them from a liability into an asset for this team.
It's amazing what this offseason has meant for Foster, as last year he played like he was lost, overwhelmed and in over his head. But with a full offseason to acclimate to a new playbook and new system, he has turned heads and helped change perceptions of this defense moving forward.
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