Mason Foster emerged from free agency upbeat. Sure, the one-year contract he signed with the Chicago Bears on Wednesday was not nearly as lucrative as one he might have earned if injuries didn’t hamper his 2014 season. But the inside linebacker put that what-if behind him a long time ago.
Instead, he’s happy to be part of a Bears scheme that should accentuate his strengths as a downhill run defender and make the type of game-changing plays in the passing game that highlighted the first three of his four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“This is the best situation,” Foster said Thursday morning. “I’m just excited about having an opportunity to play for a great team with a lot of history. This is a great opportunity to really hit the reset button and start over.”
That was necessary after former Bears coach Lovie Smith took his Tampa-2 scheme to the Bucs last season. It was Foster’s third scheme in four years with the Bucs. The club’s 2011 third-round pick, who had steadily ascended, suddenly did not flourish. The dislocated left shoulder he suffered in Week 2 didn’t help, either.
In joining the Bears’ new 3-4 base defense, Foster expects a system that maximizes his abilities — a smart player with proven quickness when healthy, and a sound, impactful tackler.
“It gives you a chance to attack more downhill, play downhill, play off your D-line and play off of each other,” he said. “After playing in the Tampa-2, you’re not really dropping back into zones like that or running down the middle of the field (in coverage), which, there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t get me wrong. I just feel personally that that’s something that’s not ideal for me.”
Foster said Bears coaches didn’t specify whether they’ll line him up first as a Mike (middle linebacker) or Jack (defensive end/linebacker hybrid), and he didn’t seem to mind, as long as he’s in the middle tracking ball-carriers.
“I like to mix it up, you know what I mean?” he said. “I feel like that’s what linebackers should be doing, right? That’s what I love to do. I love to go downhill and blitz (rather) than run down the middle in the deep third. It’s just a better fit for me, and I think it’s going to work out well.”
Foster, 26, had 92 total tackles, two sacks and three interceptions in 2013 in coach Greg Schiano’s final season. He returned two of the interceptions for touchdowns. His contract year, however, was an untimely downturn.
He missed three games after the shoulder injury. Late in the season, a strained Achilles tendon caused him to miss three games and most of a fourth. His 62 tackles and zero sacks were career lows.
He says he's healthy now, but he knows words won't prove that.
“You just use that as motivation for yourself,” Foster said. “People are always going to doubt you. That chip on my shoulder is as big as ever. It’s always been big, being from a small town (Seaside, Calif.), and I didn’t get recruited highly out of high school. I always felt like I had something to prove. But now it’s even more evident. Just for me personally, I know what I have to do to show people the player that I am.”