- Associated Press - Sunday, July 31, 2011

TAMPA, FLA. (AP) - Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris is set to start the regular season with a young middle linebacker.

Second-year pro Tyrone McKenzie and rookie Mason Foster are the front-runners to replace Barrett Ruud, who has agreed to terms on a contract with Tennessee. Another first-year player, Derrell Smith, is also in the mix.

“It provides an opportunity for one of those guys,” Morris said. “A Tyrone McKenzie, a Mason Foster, a Derrell Smith, player X. Somebody is going to step up.”

McKenzie played three games last season and had five tackles.

Morris said Sunday he was going to miss his close friend with Ruud going to the Titans. Ruud had been the starting middle linebacker and the team’s leading tackler for most of his six seasons in Tampa Bay.

Barrett was more than just a (line) backer,” Morris said. “I wish him nothing but the best. I hope he goes on and proves us wrong and makes it happen.”

The Bucs went 10-6 last season, narrowly missing the playoffs with one of the youngest rosters in the league.

“The way I look at it is, if I get a whole bunch of hungry, young guys in my locker room, they will all look at it as an opportunity to go play,” Morris said. “An opportunity to be great. And everybody wants an opportunity.”

Also, Tampa Bay signed undrafted free agent tight end Jose Cruz and released long snapper Aaron Feld.