By: Justin Pawlowski - on twitter: @CommishOnlineBy Justin Pawlowski

The Buccaneers put the pads on for the 1st time this season on Sunday.

The energy was high and the optimism was even higher.

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On the first play during the first team period in pads, Josh McCown’s pass was intercepted on a nice play by middle linebacker Mason Foster.

“It’s all about the ball,” Foster said of creating turnovers. “With a great quarterback like we have, a great offense, great running backs, great receivers, the more times they have the ball, the better chance we have to win.”

Lovie Smith has been around some elite middle linebackers during his coaching tenure. A few names you might remember include Hardy Nickerson, Shelton Quarles, and Brian Urlacher, two of which were on the field during Sunday’s practice.

Mason Foster realizes that if he wants to be successful in this defense like the aforementioned names, his coverage skills had to improve.

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“You know, coverage is something you can get better at, ” Foster said. “The league is changing; throwing the ball a lot, a lot of quick players, a lot of open space, so I’ve been working on it all off-season. I feel like I’m getting better and it’s showing.”

That off-season Foster referred to, is where most of his “hoped for” success had to begin.

“We hit it hard this off-season,” Foster said. “We were in our books, studying. We figured if we could get it down now, make it hard now, so it’s easy when it gets to the year. That was the way we approached it.”

There is much hope and hype surrounding this Buccaneer defense for 2014. Some prognosticators believe the Bucs will be a top 10 defense, and might sniff the top 5.

The Bucs do have their potential stars in Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Michael Johnson, and Alterraun Verner, but if Mason Foster takes that next step in his career t0 becoming a top 5 middle linebacker and big time leader on defense, the Buccaneers could find themselves in the elite category on that side of the ball.

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