Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie linebacker Mason Foster's task was simple.
Foster had only to replace former Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, who spent six seasons in Tampa. He had to learn Tampa Bay's playbook despite not having offseason workouts because of the NFL lockout. Lastly, Foster had to beat out incumbent linebacker Tyrone McKenzie for a starting position.
All Foster has done is win the starting job, learn the playbook, call plays and lead the team with 34 tackles.
Foster is poised to continue his success as Tampa Bay (3-1) travels to play San Francisco (3-1) on Sunday.
"I was concerned," Foster said. "Anybody who says they weren't concerned would be lying. I was concerned, but I knew the thing I could control was my effort. That's what I wanted to come in and do.
"I knew I could try to be physical and try to run around as much as possible and things would click later on. When I first came in here, I just wanted to show that I was a physical player and I would play as hard as possible all the time."
Foster, Tampa Bay's third-round draft pick, accomplished that goal quickly.
During the preseason, Foster laid a hard hit on New England receiver Chad Ochocinco, which resulted in an NFL fine. Ochocinco respected Foster's hit so much, he offered to pay the fine, a gesture the NFL said was unacceptable.
Foster not only leads the team in tackles, he has two sacks, which is tied for third among NFL rookies. Foster had a breakout game against Minnesota and led the team with 13 tackles, a forced fumble, one tackle for loss and one sack. He was a finalist for the NFL Rookie of the Week award.
"He has just taken it to a whole new level," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "I didn't know about his cool, calm, collective demeanor. He is kind of like (Josh Freeman) when it comes to that. He is a hard kid to yell at. Even when he makes a mistake, how (is he) supposed to know that? You get teachable moments with him and he is a joy and a pleasure to work with.
"I don't even know if I have ever seen him raise his voice other than on the football field. He has a lot of hand movements and I am not sure what his mouth is saying out there, but I never hear him say it in practice. I never hear him say it in practice. I never hear him say it off the field, but I love the way he plays. He plays with a nasty temperament that his head coach loves, and I am sure his organization does, too."
Foster credits Bucs linebacker Adam Hayward, who he calls a big brother, for helping him grasp Tampa Bay's playbook.
When the season began, linebacker Quincy Black had to call plays. As a result of Hayward's mentorship, Foster has taken over those responsibilities and called plays in Tampa Bay's past two games.
His hard work and dedication has not gone unnoticed by teammates.
"He's moving along fast," linebacker Geno Hayes said. "He's ahead of the learning curve. He's a smart guy and plays with intensity. You can't help but respect the guy and what he's doing right now. He's taking control of the huddle and guys are playing close attention to what he's doing.
"He showed it in training camp that we can depend on him. Trust me, (trust) is there. He's a great guy, too. We have nothing but confidence in him."
That confidence will be on display during Foster's homecoming this weekend.
Foster, who played collegiately at the University of Washington, was raised in Seaside, Calif., which is within driving distance of San Francisco. Many of Foster's family members will be there to lend their support.
They will witness what Morris sees every week.
Foster completing his task successfully.
"I don't know what he can't do right now," Morris said. "I am searching because I am putting him on different levels every week. I am blitzing him. I am dropping him in coverage. I am letting him check defenses. He is checking things back from the defense that I might have said on the sideline.
"He just handles everything with a nice, cool, calm, collective demeanor. I've got all the faith and confidence in the world when you are talking about a guy like that."