Bucs LB Lavonte David quietly emerging as leader

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