After just one game against the Chicago Bears, it’s hard to know yet whether the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have an improved defense from last season when they ranked 23rd in yards allowed. It is clear, however, that the Bucs have playmakers on defense. At the top of that list is under appreciated outsidelinebacker Lavonte David.
Tampa Bay’s defense may have allowed opponents to move the ball up and down the field last year, but they made up some of the difference with splash plays. The Bucs had the second highest percentage of opponents’ drives that ended in a turnover, only behind Kansas City.
David had an interception and four forced fumbles. That’s been his M.O. Since coming into the NFL as a second-round pick in 2012. He’s picked up 10 interceptions, 18.0 sacks, stuffed 76 runs, forced 12 fumbles and scored two touchdowns in 79 games.
Last season, the former Nebraska linebacker led all outside linebackers in tackles for loss with 17. He picked up where he left off last year to start the season against the Bears. He produced eight tackles, recovered a fumble and stuffed a Chicago run for a 3-yard loss. He came away from Week 2 as the top rated linebacker by Pro Football Focus.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer described David as one of the key players in Tampa Bay’s defense.
“Very good player, fast, quick,” Zimmer said. “Their linebackers get downhill fast. He’s been a good player, very disruptive. The speed of their linebackers will make it difficult for our guys up front because they are going to get on you quick – a lot quicker than a lot of linebackers.”
While he hasn’t received much national attention, the Bucs have shown their appreciation for the 27-year-old linebacker. In 2015, they signed him to a five-year, $50.25 million contract extension with $25.56 million guaranteed. He was also ranked in the NFL’s top 100 players by his peers prior to last season, coming in at 53rd.
David’s partner in the linebacking corps Kwon Alexander can also be a playmaker, but he will not play against the Vikings on Sunday.
The Vikings allowed Pittsburgh pressure Case Keenum last week via blitzes. Zimmer said the Steelers had 24 total blitzes. The Bucs may follow suit using their speedy linebackers.
“That’s going to have to be our adjustment, anticipating the speed of the linebackers,” Zimmer said.