Tampa Bay Buccaneers weakside Lavonte David may be an unknown to fans around the league — he’s currently in sixth place among fan votes, which count for one-third in determining who goes to the Pro Bowl — but that hasn’t stopped his teammates or coaches from campaigning for the second-year pro to earn a trip to Hawaii.
David’s registered 117 combined tackles, 82 solo tackles, six sacks and five interceptions this season — staggering numbers that put him among the NFL’s linebackers.
“I think he is playing as well as any linebacker in the league, I really do. He does everything: tackle, [defend the] pass, blitz. There’s nothing that guy can’t do,” said head coach Greg Schiano. “Show me somebody more productive all around. The guy does it all. To me he’s my Defensive Player of the Year. I don’t even know if I get a vote, I don’t think I do – I’ll stump for him a little here.”
Last week against the Bills, David recorded a sack and two interceptions. It was his third-straight game with a pick. Teammate Gerald McCoy, who draws a fair share of attention from opposing teams, admitted he had no idea where David was coming from.
“The first…he got, I was in the clamp with two people. So I’m like, ‘Agh, dang it. Two people again.’ I looked up again and I was like, ‘Where is this guy coming from?!’ I didn’t even know it was him that had it,” said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
“The second one, he shows up with another one. I’m like, ‘This guy….you know, he’s fun to watch. I love watching him,” McCoy added, admitting that sometimes he wishes he could just sit back and watch David play.
Since the NFL began tracking sacks in 1982, David is one of only four players to record six sacks and five interceptions in a season. The others? Safety Dave Duerson in 1986, safety Rodney Harrison in 2000 and cornerback Shawn Springs in 2004. David is the first linebacker to reach that milestone.
Fans around the league haven’t seemed to notice much, partly because of the Bucs’ 4-9 record and also the lack of national exposure. If he does go to Hawaii, it will be because those around the league who are watching tape and game-planning against the Buccaneers see how difficult he is to stop.
“He can run so well. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s big enough but he can run like a safety,” said Schiano. “Then he plays relentlessly, he plays with tremendous effort, and he just goes to the football relentlessly. When you do that – people call it luck, [but] I don’t think it’s luck; you make your own luck by playing hard.”
In David’s case, it took a lot of extra work. While he’s enjoyed some early success in the NFL, he had some hurdles to overcome in college, including playing at the JUCO level.
“It would mean a lot,” David said of a Pro Bowl nod. “I came a long way going through junior college, playing at Nebraska, being doubted [because] I’m not too big to play this position, but it would mean a lot. It’s like a dream come true. My dream was to play in this league and now I created that dream myself, to be the best player at my position, and going to the Pro Bowl shows.”