LINCOLN — Barrett Ruud maybe never realized how good he had it those six seasons with Tampa Bay.
Sure, the Buccaneers made the NFL playoffs just twice and never won a postseason game during his time there. And they played only twice on “Monday Night Football” and maybe one other prime-time game, if Ruud remembers right.
But the past two seasons have taught him that sticking with one team, being a focal point of its defense and staying healthy are not to be taken for granted.
Ľ The former Nebraska linebacker mostly fought bumps and bruises as a Buc (from 2005 through '10), and led Tampa Bay in tackles his past four years. Then last season he played just nine games with Tennessee and underwent three surgeries.
Ľ Seattle picked him up in the offseason but dealt him to New Orleans on Aug. 20, marking the first time that he'd ever been traded.
Ľ When the Saints cut him loose Oct. 8, it was the first time Ruud had ever been released by a team.
Ľ And when Houston kept him out of uniform last Sunday? It was the first time he'd ever been inactive for a game when he was healthy.
“For six years I basically never came off the field. I was a team captain,” Ruud said. “It's kind of a different world. All of a sudden I got bounced around a little bit. It definitely gives you a respect for guys that have had to do that their whole career.”
That said, Ruud, 29, is wondering if he might have fallen back into a good situation with Houston after the Texans signed him Oct. 10. One that puts those fears for his football future on hold for at least a little while.
Houston lost linebacker Brian Cushing to a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 9, but Ruud said the Texans actually had been in contact with his agent before that Monday night game. It also didn't hurt that the team calling was one that many consider the best in the AFC right now.
But there was also a time — even if it was just a few hours or minutes — where he did stop and think about his longevity in the game.
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“It was one of those things where I'd never been released before and you start thinking about your future a little bit,” Ruud said. “You know, 'Should I be doing this anymore?' You definitely have to start thinking about maybe this isn't going to last forever.
“But if you get the right opportunity, maybe you can squeeze a few more in. If it happens, great. If not, maybe you've got to move on.”
Ruud said having an injury-filled year as he did in 2011 can get you “red-flagged” in the NFL, especially as a free agent. It also becomes one of the reasons why you end up on four teams in a 10-month span.
The right role becomes harder and harder to find.
With Houston, which is 6-1 going into a bye week Sunday, Ruud will back up starters Bradie James and Tim Dobbins at the inside linebacker spots in the Texans' 3-4 scheme. He said defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' system is “pretty player friendly,” so he already has picked it up even though he previously played only in 4-3 alignments.
Ruud is still a little curious about how it all will work out for him, but more than anything, it came down to a good team offering him a chance to play — and Ruud feeling like he can still help somebody.
“I definitely think I can play at as high a level as I've ever played at,” he said. “If I can go in and kind of prove I'm over these injuries and play like I can, I think I can get another offer (after this season). If it doesn't happen, I don't know if I want to do the jump-around thing, either.”
Ruud was a second-round draft pick (No. 36 overall) by Tampa Bay in 2005 after finishing his Nebraska career as the Huskers' all-time leading tackler. He went to Tennessee as an unrestricted free agent in 2011.
Injuries led to it not working out for Ruud in Seattle, capped by some knee trouble in training camp. He then knew that he was on borrowed time with New Orleans until the Saints got back Jonathan Vilma.
Ruud spent the past two weeks getting down the defense in Houston, where he joins former Husker and rookie defensive tackle Jared Crick. The bye allowed him to return to Lincoln late this week, and he planned to attend the Nebraska-Michigan game on Saturday night.
When the Texans start preparations next week for their Nov. 4 game with Buffalo, Ruud will simply give them whatever he's got and whatever they need — regardless if it's some special teams or even scout-team work.
“You kind of come full circle and it's kind of humbling,” Ruud said. “I don't know the plans for me entirely, but it's one of those things where if I'm not given an opportunity right away then I've just got to be ready when I get one.
“One thing that's been nice is that it's a great group. There's a reason they got this good of a team. Very good, very selfless players who just always do their job. It's really about team down there.”
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