Commentary | Lavonte David shines brightly for an overlooked Tampa Bay Buccaneers' linebacking corps

adell@bradenton.comJuly 31, 2013 

Falcons Buccaneers Football

Atlanta Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers is brought down by Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) during a Nov. 25 game in Tampa. ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

BRIAN BLANCO — ASSOCIATED PRESS

TAMPA

Mason Foster says he doesn't mind that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' linebacking corps is overlooked.

But maybe he should.

It's easy to overlook what you can't see, and often last season the unit became a one-man gang of Lavonte David and a bunch of defensive backs in passing situations.

Foster can change that. The third-year middle linebacker needs to be able to find his way when opponents take to the air.

It's not easy. Drew Brees can make you feel like one of the three blind mice instead of the centerpiece of a 4-3 defense.

The Bucs had the worst pass defense in the league last year and came within a medium-range completion of statistically being the worst in NFL history.

So most of the talk this preseason is about the improved secondary and whether the defensive line can play well enough to help the Bucs reach the postseason.

The linebacking corps?

Oh yeah, there is Lavonte and some other guys.

So Brees and the other elite quarterbacks the Bucs will face this year are already plotting their destruction.

Overlooked? The Bucs pass defense is just hoping it won't be overwhelmed.

"We didn't mind being overlooked. It's one defense. I'm happy that we've got great safeties, great secondary, great defensive line -- it all ties together," Foster says. "They make our job easier. We make their job easier. I don't care who gets the notoriety, it's about winning."

If Mason is being politically correct, we can laud his attitude. But he should care about notoriety. In this game, getting attention means you've done something special, either good or bad.

Last year, two-thirds of the Bucs linebacking corps did a disappearing act in many passing situations.

The unit accounted for only two interceptions and not much in the way of batting away passes.

David took over the green-dot role (play-calling) from Foster last year leaving the middle linebacker more time to concentrate on his technique, and he responded with two sacks and an interception and was second on the Bucs with 105 tackles.

"I think the biggest thing for me is just keeping taking steps forward, keep getting better each and every day. If you are not getting better, you're getting worse," Foster says.

If Foster wants to be more than a situational player, he needs to increase his production. And the Bucs need more from a middle linebacker if they are going to improve their pass defense.

Adding to the dilemma is that safety Mark Barron is another physical player who struggles with pass defense. All of this created a house that could not stand on its own, and it's why the acquisitions of cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson were crucial.

David is the linchpin. The weakside linebacker set a franchise record with 20 tackles for loss, and his 139 tackles led the team. He is already being talked about as another Derrick Brooks.

He should also make things easier for Foster and allow him to concentrate on his duties.

The stat geeks at Pro Football Focus rate David the top run stopper in the NFL last season because of his ability to deny the offense its objective.

PFF rates a "stop" as preventing an offense from getting what it wants (aka offensive success).

An offensive success according to PFF would be a team getting 40 percent of its required yardage (for a first down) on first down, 60 percent on second down and the required entire yardage on third or fourth down.

Basically it measures where a tackle was made relative to down or distance. To put it more simply, it recognizes who won on the tackle, the offense or the defense.

David was highly efficient in that aspect of the game and in many eyes he was the Bucs' defensive MVP. Another season like that should earn him Pro Bowl honors, though he says that's not a priority.

"The sky is the limit and if the Pro Bowl happens it happens," David says. "This is not a Superman game. I am just trying to help make the team better. I am just trying to do my job and make sure everyone is in line."

David had only one sack last season, but his 14 hurries ranked him second among 4-3 outside linebackers to Denver's Von Miller, who led 4-3 OLB in sacks, hits and hurries.

"Whatever happens, happens. Pressure causes incompletions, and of course sacks go into the stat books," David says. "I am trying to improve on my communication. We had a few communication busts, and that is on my part. But (most) everybody here knows our concept and that makes us think faster."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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