But, it was the best the Buccaneers’ defense, as a whole, had looked in a long time.
David knows that, and he’s more than OK with it. Not that he doesn’t want to play better himself, he certainly does. But going into 2017, he’s a lot more encouraged than you’d think for a player who had career lows in some statistical categories.
A big reason for that is because of the team’s retaining of defensive coordinator Mike Smith, and how 2016 was only the beginning of what they’re capable of under his coaching.
“I think the main thing was when we first installed the defenses, guys were just focusing on their jobs and what they were supposed to be doing, just still learning what they were supposed to be doing,” David said. “As the season went on, we kind of graduated from knowing what we were doing to knowing what the guys around you were doing. That’s the main thing. That’s the only way the defense is going to work – if you know who you are working with, knowing where guys are supposed to be and knowing how you’re supposed to fit. That allows us to play fast and make plays and anticipate things. That’s the main thing. That’s the type of level we are trying to get on in order for us to be a great defense.”
Having a versatile defensive system like the one Smith runs is great, in theory, but it’s tough to pull off, especially for such a young roster. However, down the stretch, the team really did start together in new ways. David remembers two games in specific where he knew the defense had turned the corner, and was on the road to something better than before.
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Getty Images
“Probably right around the Saints game, around that time, the Saints and Seattle games,” David said. “It’s like, okay, yeah, you’re starting to get it now. Things started clicking, guys started talking, guys start getting more comfortable. Guys are knowing where each other [are] supposed to be. When you see guys flying around, that goes to show that we know what we are doing. You’ve got guys who know what they are doing and also with the talent we have, it can take us a long way.”
During the offseason, Smith and the rest of the defensive coaching staff created a “Good, Bad and Ugly” tape for each player in the 2016 campaign. In it, the coaches gave each player an honest look at the highlights and lowlights of their year – which ever one had more, the good or the bad, they’d show it. David was asked about his tape. He laughed and said he didn’t want to talk about how long the bad parts were, but said he’d never been through an offseason exercise like that before, and how eye-opening it was.
“We are not going to get into that [laughs], but it’s what I needed to be honest,” David said. “Since I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve ever had that. So, when I saw that, I really think it helped me out a lot. We got a chance to sit down with [Linebackers] Coach [Mark] Duffner and talk about things good, bad and what could be better. You kind of see the big picture doing it too. It kind of helps you learn defense as well, what can be better, what you did good on this play and what you did bad on a certain play. Then they have lows – they have missed tackles, they have a whole bunch of things. There’s a lot of stuff to put in your bag of things to get better at.”
Bucs LBs Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David – Photo by: Getty Images
One of the players whose “good” tape was surely longer than it had been at any point in his career was fellow linebacker Kwon Alexander. On Wednesday, David was asked about Alexander’s growth as a player and his growing role on the defense. David said his partern’s work ethic and motivation can speak for itself through the film.
“Film speaks for itself, man. Since day one, Kwon has always been that guy that is just trying to learn, trying to be great,” Davis said. “He is always preaching greatness and that’s what he tries to be. Just to get a chance to watch him grow from his rookie year to now. Even in this defense, last year, all of us struggled. But now, coming into meetings, he is calling everything out, he’s the Mike ‘backer. When we’re in meetings, he’s basically taking control like he is on the field, making all the calls and things like that. That’s awesome to see from being a shy kid at first to now growing up to being mature. That’s amazing and the best is yet to come from Kwon.”
2017 is poised to be a bounce-back year for David (if you can even call it that). He and the rest of the front seven seem to be setting lofty goals, not just in statistics, but in execution. After a year where he had to battle through injuries, David said the time off has rejuvenated him to accomplish those goals.
“I’m feeling great,” David said. “I can’t complain. I’m blessed. I had a long offseason and had a chance to get healthy, get everything I had to do squared away, so now I’m ready to hit the ground running.”
2016 wasn’t Lavonte David’s best year.
But he know that through him, the best is yet to come in 2017.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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