NFL

Bucs LB Lavonte David quietly emerging as leader

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP)

Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David shrugs his shoulders and smiles at the suggestion that he's a rising star deserving of more recognition.

Higher-profile teammates Darrelle Revis and Gerald McCoy garner more attention than the soft-spoken second-year pro. Still, no one on Tampa Bay's defense has performed as consistently as David, who leads the team in tackles and is the only player in the NFL with six-plus sacks, along with five or more interceptions.

On Sunday, the 23-year-old became the first Bucs linebacker to have an interception in three consecutive games since Derrick Brooks in 2002, finishing with two picks, a sack and nine tackles during a 27-6 rout of the Buffalo Bills. It was Tampa Bay fourth win in five games following an 0-8 start.

''I think he is playing as well as any linebacker in the league, I really do,'' coach Greg Schiano said. ''He does everything: tackle, (defend the) pass, blitz. There's nothing that guy can't do. He's a really fine football player and, as I've said before, even a better person. You can't ask for a better work ethic, everything about the guy. He's special.''

A second-round draft pick out of Nebraska in 2012, David started every game as a rookie, handling the responsibilities of making defensive calls and leading the team in tackles.

He's been even better during what generally has been a disappointing season with the Bucs, embracing an evolving role as a leader of defense also featuring Revis, a three-time All-Pro; McCoy, a first-time Pro Bowl selection a year ago, and Dashon Goldson, who was an All-Pro with San Francisco last season.

The Buccaneers host the 49ers on Sunday.

With his performance against the Bills, David became one of four players - and the only linebacker - who since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 to have at least six sacks in the same season. The others are safeties Rodney Harrison (2000) and Dave Duerson (1986) and cornerback Shawn Springs (2-4).

''That's a big deal, isn't it?'' David said after being told he'd joined rare company.

''It's just an accomplishment. I really don't pay attention to the statistical things, but it's just all a matter of just playing hard,'' he added. ''I love playing this game. I try my best week in and week out and great things happen.''

David leads the Bucs with five interceptions and is second in sacks with six, one behind McCoy's career-best seven.

The defense has been the key to Tampa Bay's turnaround the past five weeks. The Bucs lead the NFL with 21 interceptions and have had at least two takeaways in four consecutive games.

The Bills turned the ball over five times, with David grabbing two of the team's four interceptions off EJ Manuel.

''There's certain types of leaders: there's vocal leaders, there's leaders by example. Lavonte is a leader by example, unquestionably - his work ethic, his attention to detail, his practice habits,'' Schiano said.

''If you could say, how do you want a guy, as a Buc, to perform, you (would) just point to him,'' the coach added. ''Now, as of late, he's become more of a vocal leader. I think it's just comfort. I think it's, `I'm not a rookie anymore, I'm a second-year player.' Again, he's never going to be a man of many words, but when he speaks, people listen.''

Opposing coaches have spoken glowing of the 6-foot-1, 233-pound linebacker as well.

As for David, he's trying to keep his success in perspective.

''I'm just playing the game that I love. I just love the game of football,'' David said. ''Every Sunday I'm going to come out and try my hardest, give my heart for the team and guys that's on the field with me.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Tagged: Bills, Buccaneers, Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David

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