Lavonte David perfect for new-age NFL and coach Lovie Smith

adell@bradenton.comJuly 18, 2014 

Bills Buccaneers Football

Tampa Bay outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) celebrates after running back an interception for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills last season at Raymond James Stadium.ASSOCIATED PRESS

PHELAN M. EBENHACK — AP

TAMPA

Lavonte David was born at the right time, and is now in the right place.

It's a new NFL -- Passing schemes dominate the game, which has created a demand for more versatility on defense, particularly at linebacker.

That fits David's DNA. To borrow a baseball term, he is a five-tool player.

The 6-1, 233-pound third year pro is also playing for new Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith, who makes David's weakside linebacker position the most important in his linebacking corps.

Not one to dish out accolades to young players, Smith has compared David to another linebacker -- Buccaneers legend and 2014 Hall of Fame Inductee Derrick Brooks.

Size is less important among linebackers today, most experts say. So a guy like David who can cover, rush the passer and play the run equally well is a valuable commodity.

The ability to run, to diagnose and then hit supersedes everything else, including size, says NFL analyst Charles Davis.

David seems perfect for coach Smith's 4-3, alignment using his speed and an incredible ability to close on a play to make up for lack of size.

David notched 32 combined tackles more than Bucs middle linebacker Mason Foster, and made 45 more defensive stops from those tackles last season.

When it came to Run Stop Percentage, David was the highest-ranked linebacker, making a defensive stop against the run on 13.5 percent of his snaps -- more than 3 percent better than the next linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus,

PFF describes a defensive stop as an offensive failure, such as team failing to make a first down on a third-and-two.

David had 21 more stops than any other player at his position and more than doubled the stop total for all but seven other 4-3 outside linebackers. He finished with 145 tackles (second among OLB's), seven sacks, five interceptions and forced two fumbles.

The best part is he was often making plays closer to the line of scrimmage than anybody else without sacrificing his coverage responsibilities. In short, David was the perfect weakside backer in that 4-3 scheme.

Lovie Smith didn't need to read the numbers. He has a keen eye for talent and has already heaped praise on David.

"There are not a lot of players like Derrick Brooks. It's not even fair to compare some guys in that way, but Lavonte David, he has a chance," Smith said. "He's that younger version coming up."

David understands his skill set and likes the new system Smith installed because it's allowing him to utilize his talents to the maximum.

He also appreciates Smith hiring former Buccaneer and five-time Pro Bowler, Hardy Nickerson, to teach linebackers on the Bucs new coaching staff.

"This defense is giving me an opportunity to play faster and see the whole field, and learn what everybody is doing," David said. "I am still in a position where I can make plays. Coach Nickerson is always getting guys amped up and when you see that from coach it raises your level. His best advice is never get complacent. From a guy who played 15 years in this league, you get chance to pick his brain, and that's a great privilege."

David was snubbed last year when he wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl in a move that infuriated Brooks and others. However, he did earn AP All-Pro honors.

David doesn't take anything for granted, and was a regular around Tampa Bay HQ during the off-season working out -- often on his own.

'There are a lot of things I can improve on, and I want to be ready for our new defense that will open up things more. It should be fun," David said.

The former second-round pick, who is entering his third season, is considered one of the most underpaid players in the league. He signed a four-year, $3.5 million deal as a second-round pick in 2012 with $1.4 million guaranteed. He is slated to earn just $705,612 this season.

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