If Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Danny Lansanah has learned anything about life in the NFL, it’s to assume nothing. Roster opportunities can be yanked away just as quickly as they’re awarded when you’re a backup trying to latch on somewhere in the league.
Since being picked up by Green Bay as an undrafted free agent out of UConn in 2008, Lansanah’s professional career path has winded its way through five NFL cities and two others from the now-defunct United Football League. That type of job insecurity – getting signed one month then released the next – nearly led the Pennsylvania native out of the game all together.
Perseverance, however, appears to be paying off here in Tampa Bay.
Lansanah, originally signed by the Bucs last Dec. 4 off of the New York Jets’ practice squad, now finds himself on solid footing with the second team defense, backing up weakside linebacker Lavonte David. He’s stood out making splash plays all training camp long and got to the top of the stat sheet with a team-high four tackles against Jacksonville last Friday night.
But Lansanah’s seen and heard this before – coaches and teammates singing his praises, media members pumping him up. Past experiences have taught him not to get comfortable and not to take his foot off the gas.
“I’m pretty sure you heard about my long road,” Lansanah said after practice Tuesday evening. “Last year I had the same things going on. I played great and then things didn’t work out. That’s why I just come out here each day and work hard. I don’t read press clippings and all that. I just come out here and grind. That’s all I know how to do is grind and grind and keep getting better each day and then I’ll let the chips fall where they may at the end of camp.”
That work ethic continues to produce positive encouragement regarding Lansanah’s potential future on this team, with head coach Lovie Smith including his name among a few other role players standing out this preseason.
“Danny Lansanah,” Smith said. “As a linebacker, whether it’s outside, inside or wherever, we’ve taken notice in him a few different days.”
Though he’s listed as a weakside linebacker, Lansanah spent the majority of his football life playing in the middle before coming to Tampa Bay last year. But, as Smith mentioned, the Bucs have tinkered with his positioning on the second level and like his football instincts and adaptability.
“It kind of shows his versatility a little bit that he can do that,” Smith said. “First off for Danny, he was playing behind Lavonte David. Now how many reps will he get there? Zero is the answer. So we wanted to look at him at a couple different places. Whenever we’ve given him an opportunity, he’s made plays.”
In transitioning to life on outside, Lansanah said step No. 1 was physical – not regarding technique, but body type.
“In OTAs I was one of the biggest linebackers, so I had to focus on getting my weight down so I could play fast,” Lansanah said. “I got it down to 230-235 from about 250.”
The Bucs’ current 90-man roster still lists the 6-foot-1 Lansanah at his 255-pound OTA weight, which did in fact have him as the heaviest of the nine-man linebacking unit. Now that he’s trimmed down, Lansanah said he can notice his improved mobility and is out to prove that he get out in the flats and defend the pass as well as he can attack and lay the wood.
“I’m a physical linebacker,” he said. “I like to hit, but I can cover too. People think because I’m a bigger linebacker that I can’t cover, but I think I can do that well. It’s been a lot of work and it’s still a work in progress.
“With the Will linebacker position there’s more running involved and there are faster, shiftier kinds of guys there,” he continued. “But with my background, I was really good in high school basketball, I was all-state, and I think that helped me out with my agility. The thing I had to do was get my weight down and now I’m running well and I feel great.”
By David’s unofficial tally, Lansanah’s focus on coverage has already started producing big-time results, albeit in practice settings.
“I want to say he’s leading the LBs in interceptions right now, so that’s a positive thing,” David said of Lansanah’s training camp and the work put in by backups behind other starters MLB Mason Foster and SLB Jonathan Casillas. “But me personally, trying to be a leader, I’ve got confidence in all my guys and everybody that’s out there. I could say everyone’s stepping up. Danny Lansanah, Dane Fletcher, Ka’Lial Glaud; but it’s our first year in this defense so there’s a lot of work to do.”
Considering past experience has conditioned Lansanah to never get too comfortable, even when a situation may feel secure, the 28-year-old realizes the one thing he can fully control is his all-around effort.
“[Camp’s] a struggle, but you’ve got to push through it,” he said. “That’s the game of football. I come out here and try to give it 110 percent every time I get on this field and when I get in the playbook. When you know what you’re doing and you know where you have to be, your physical attributes take over after that. It’s all about getting in that playbook. Once you’ve got it all down you can play fast and physical and it’s like second nature.”
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