SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. DAVID IS ON THE PATH TO THE PRO BOWLTo say that Buccaneers weakside linebacker Lavonte David is a legitimate candidate for the Pro Bowl would be an understatement. In fact, he’s a legitimate candidate for multiple Pro Bowls.
Of all the star football players on the defensive side of the ball in Tampa Bay, including Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson and Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, David, who is only five games into his second NFL season, is just as talented. It’s a shame the Bucs are 0-5 instead of 5-0 because there would be plenty of notoriety for Tampa Bay’s heat-seeking missile of a linebacker and also pre-game features on all the national TV shows.
Through five games, David leads the Buccaneers in several defensive categories, including tackles (37), tackles for loss (six), sacks (four) and quarterback hits (seven), and is also tied for the team lead in interceptions with one.
In a draft that saw Bucs general manager Mark Dominik trade down to get strong safety Mark Barron in the top of the first round, trade up to get Doug Martin in the bottom of the first round, and trade up to get David in the top of the second round in 2012, the selection of the Nebraska linebacker may be the best selection of them all.
When David was drafted last year there were plenty of comparisons to legendary linebacker and future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. Like Brooks, David is undersized at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds and played the weakside linebacker position that Brooks made famous in Tampa Bay. Both linebackers relied on speed and instincts to make tackles over size and sheer strength.
“I’ve been doubted my whole life,” David said during the rookie mini-camp in 2012 after becoming a Buccaneer. “I’ve made a living out of proving people wrong with what I’ve been doing, so I’m going to try to keep that up. I don’t care what anybody says about my size. I just like playing football. I’m very passionate about it, and I’m going to do the best I can.
“I know a lot about Derrick Brooks. I watched him at Florida State. He’s a great football player. He’s a great person as well. A lot of people are trying to compare my game to his but you can’t really do that. He’s one of the all-time greats. I’m just trying to make a name for myself.”
That’s exactly what David is doing, but comparing him to Brooks, who is arguably the best Buccaneer of all time is inevitable, is only natural – especially since he’s off to a better start than the former 1995 first-round pick.
Consider that Brooks was an instant starter as a rookie in 1995 the way David was last year, and Brooks notched 78 tackles, two forced fumbles and four pass breakups. David had 139 tackles last year to lead Tampa Bay as a rookie, along with a franchise-record 20 tackles for loss, two sacks and one interception.
Want to know something eerie? Brooks went 7-9 in his first NFL season, just as David did in his first campaign in Tampa Bay last year. Brooks started off the 1996 season 0-5, recording 47 tackles (38 solo), two pass breakups and an interception.
Ironically, the Bucs are off to a 0-5 start in David’s second season, too, as the young linebacker has 38 tackles (27 solo), with four sacks, four pass breakups and an interception. The reason why Brooks had slightly more tackles than David has through the first five games of his second season is the fact that No. 55 had a career-high 19 tackles (18 solo) in a Week 3 clash at Denver in 1996.
Still, through the first 21 games of David’s career, he’s still off to a better statistical start. He leads Brooks in tackles with 177 to 132. That’s 45 more tackles, and keep in mind that in Brooks’ era the assistant coaches used to go back and watch tape and adjust/inflate the tackle totals. That’s not a practice Greg Schiano engages in and his staff does not adjust tackle totals.
David has six sacks through 21 games while Brooks had none, although Brooks did have three forced fumbles compared to the fact that David has none. Both David and Brooks intercepted one pass in their first 21 contests, and ironically, their pick came at Denver.
Brooks’ first career interception came at the hands of Broncos legend John Elway. As for David, he intercepted new Broncos legend Peyton Manning first his first career pick.
Comparing David to Brooks is nothing short of flattery, and based on the statistics, the style of play and the quality of performance it is well deserved. The big question is whether David can sustain this level of success, as there are three things that made Brooks a legend in Tampa Bay.
The first is his high level of play that earned him a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl roster 11 times and a home on the All-Pro list nine times, in addition to becoming the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
The second is the fact that Brooks had longevity and stayed relatively injury free while playing 14 years in the league.
The third is that he was a winner. It’s no coincidence that Brooks’ rise to prominence in the NFL coincided with Tampa Bay becoming a playoff team in his third year in the league. Brooks first became a Pro Bowler in 1997, which is when the Buccaneers ended a 13-year postseason drought and won a wild card playoff game over Detroit.
In 1996, Brooks and the Buccaneers finished 6-10, which is a plausible outcome for David and the 2013 squad after a 0-5 start. The difference though is David deserves Pro Bowl recognition right now in his second season.
Although he has played one less game than most NFC outside linebackers due to Tampa Bay’s early bye week, David’s numbers compare favorably with some household names, such as Chicago’s Lance Briggs, who has 56 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles, and Minnesota’s Chad Greenway, who has 43 tackles, two picks and one sack; and some relative newcomers, such as Detroit’s DeAndre Levy, who has 49 tackles, 10 pass breakups, four picks, including one for a touchdown, and St. Louis’ Alec Ogletree, who has 46 tackles, three forced fumbles and a pick-six.
David ranks third among all NFC linebackers with four sacks, right behind Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan (26 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles) and San Francisco’s Aldon Smith (18 tackles, 4.5 sacks). With a few more sacks and interceptions and a forced fumble or two, David will really begin to make a name for himself this season. With primetime games against Carolina next Thursday and against Miami on Monday night in a couple of weeks David will have the opportunity to burst onto the national scene the way Brooks did on Sunday Night Football on TNT against Denver with those 19 tackles and his interception of Elway.
“[Brooks] was a leader on and off the field, and that was kind of my role throughout my college career,” David said. “The coaches brought me in and they felt like I was a good leader and a good football player.”
Good? David is on the verge of greatness – and a Pro Bowl berth.
FAB 2. DAVID HAS QUICKLY EARNED THE RESPECT OF HIS TEAMMATESWhile Lavonte David is still trying to gain notoriety and win acclaim from his peers around the NFL, he’s already earned plenty of respect from his teammates at One Buccaneer Place.
It’s one thing for a rookie to come in and start at weakside linebacker, which is what David did last year from the first preseason game on in 2012. It’s another thing for that rookie to come in with such intelligence and command of the defensive playbook that he takes over the play-calling duties. But that’s what happened last year as David wrested the play-calling responsibilities from middle linebacker Mason Foster as a rookie.
Adam Hayward, a seventh-year veteran and the elder statesman of Tampa Bay’s linebackers, is thoroughly impressed with how quickly David’s play has ascended since he entered the league last year.
“Lavonte is no where near his peak,” Hayward said. “I mean the guy is a great linebacker. He is young, fast and smart. That is the biggest thing that people do not realize is how smart to be to play this game – especially a position like that. Lavonte runs the whole defense in all of our packages – base, nickel, dime and our 30 package. Whatever package we are in, Lavonte is on the field making checks for the defensive line and the secondary. The thing that he has going for him, besides his athletic ability, is the fact that he is very smart.”
Not only does the team rely on David to make the calls on defense, he is the only linebacker that doesn’t leave the field. David plays in base and nickel defense, and is the sole linebacker on the field in dime defense.
Hayward played two years with iconic linebacker Derrick Brooks in Tampa Bay, and feels like the comparisons between he and David are legitimate and justified.
“The other person I grew up with seeing that level of intelligence is Derrick Brooks,” David said. “Derrick was very smart and that is what allowed him to make so many plays – his intelligence, and not just his athletic ability. He put guys in the right spot and that is what I see in Lavonte at a very young age. It is exciting watching him play and it gets me fired up to see him on the field.
“He is always around the ball. It is awesome to see him play and give him a little input of things I see or have witnessed that I could help out with. He still comes to me and asks me things, and I tell him, this is the way I was taught by Derrick. If you do this, you can make this play. He takes that in.”
Although he lost his job as Tampa Bay’s dime linebacker in addition to the play-calling duties, Foster is David’s close friend – not a rival.
“It is real impressive to see what he does on the field,” Foster said. “He is always working hard and plays with a lot of effort. He deserves all the attention he gets. I used to watch him in college and we have been good friends ever since he got into the NFL. I am happy for him and he works his butt off. He deserves everything he gets.”
Bucs cornerback Leonard Johnson, who entered the league with David last year and saw significant time playing alongside him as a rookie, sees multiple Pro Bowls in his future.
“I always new how good he was,” said Johnson, who played against David when he was at Iowa State. “I played in the Big 12 with him and I had a chance to play with him at the Senior Bowl. Just watching him from college to now, he is by far one of the best linebackers I have ever seen. He has so much talent. There is still more to tap and more that lies ahead. He is a phenomenal guy.
“To actually watch him and be friends with him, I’m like, ‘Do you even know some of the stuff you do out there is big time?’ And he is still working hard every day to get better. It never stops with him.”
FAB 3. GLENNON HAS IMPROVED, BUT WILL GET HIS FIRST ROAD TESTWith Josh Freeman gone from Tampa Bay and starting on Monday night for Minnesota, it’s easy to think that the Bucs will spend what will likely be a first-round draft pick on a quarterback next May. With underclassmen like Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and UCLA’s Brett Hundley possibly leaving school early, the 2014 quarterback class expected to be quite rich, that’s probably a wise option.
But rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, who was Tampa Bay’s third-round pick this past April, has a chance to make the Bucs think twice about drafting a quarterback in the first round. In two starts, Glennon has completed 50-of-86 passes for 466 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. His 58.1 percent completion percentage is about 10 percentage points higher than it was in the preseason, and also about 12 points higher than Freeman’s was through the first three games of the season.
After completing 24-of-43 passes for 193 yards (55.8 percent) with one touchdown and two fourth quarter interceptions in a 13-10 loss at Arizona, Glennon showed some serious improvement in his second game, completing 26-of-43 passes (60.5 percent) for 273 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in a 30-21 loss to Philadelphia. Glennon’s QB rating jumped from 55.7 against the Cardinals to a respectable 84.7 versus the Eagles.
Glennon is starting to look like a real competent NFL quarterback. He seems to go through his progressions much faster than Freeman, and as a rookie he doesn’t stare down his receivers like the fifth-year pro would often do. Glennon also showed surprising mobility against Philadelphia, rushing three times for 20 yards, including a 16-yard scramble that picked up a first down.
Glennon is taking good command of the huddle and surprisingly doesn’t seem overwhelmed by all of this. His teammates are taking notice.
“He did surprise me a lot,” said Bucs left tackle Donald Penn. “I’m not going to lie, I was a bit worried the first game when he came in, but his poise, his leadership, too, it’s surprising, especially being a rookie. He’s coming out there, getting us going, keeping us calm in the huddle. I was getting ready to say something and he said it before I could. He’s doing a great job of that and taking control of this offense. I really think he is doing a great job. My hat is off to him.
“I’m really surprised with as far along as he’s been. He’s out there playing like he’s been there before, and that was only his second start. He’s a good guy, too. I asked him after the game how he was feeling. He was saying he was feeling great and all that. He was kind of down on himself, and I told him, ‘Just keep fighting, keep working.’ That’s good for him, to be so hard on himself. It’s going to take us a lot further.”
While Glennon has had a relatively good to his rookie season from a performance standpoint, quarterbacks are ultimately judged by wins and losses and the Bucs are 0-2 with the rookie at the helm. Glennon’s first two starts also came at home in the friendly confines of Raymond James Stadium, and it’s a shame he couldn’t pick up a win. Now he’ll get his first road test with a trip to the noisy Georgia Dome where the surprisingly 1-4 Atlanta Falcons are as desperate for a win as 0-5 Tampa Bay is.
“We have the speakers out there blasting,” Glennon said in preparing for the Falcons game. “I played in there once before, and it is loud. I’m sure it’s going to be amped up a little bit. That dome really keeps the sound in there. That just makes me have to prepare that much more to be on top of our game plan, that way, if you can’t always hear everything in the headset or whatever the communication [issue] may be, I think that just shows how much more we have to prepare – myself as a quarterback and as an offense – that way, if we’re not all able to hear each other perfectly, we still are able to understand what we’re trying to do on that play because we’ve prepared so well that the noise isn’t a factor. “I’ve been in atmospheres where it’s rocking and it’s really loud. I think that has to be an advantage. I’ve been at the point where I’m screaming at the top of my lungs in the huddle, so I think it’s helpful that it’s not my first time doing it.”
To take steps towards becoming Tampa Bay’s surprise choice as its franchise quarterback and making Bucs fans forget about the prospects of Bridgewater in red and pewter, Glennon has to step up and start winning games, beginning in Atlanta on Sunday. If the Bucs can turn their disastrous start to the 2013 campaign around and somehow finish with a respectable 8-8 record, Glennon is the key. In addition to putting up good numbers, going 8-5 as a starter this year might put him in the driver’s seat to become Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback in 2014 and beyond.
While as many as six signal callers could carry first-round grades in 2014, former New York Giants quarterback and CBS NFL analyst Phil Simms has his suspicions about the upcoming crop of quarterbacks.
“We’ll find out when the time comes, but I don’t see any knock-down, absolutely sure, big-time NFL quarterbacks so far from this upcoming draft,” Simms said.
Glennon may be the Bucs’ best bet at quarterback after all in 2014. It’s up to him to determine his fate and Tampa Bay’s draft plans.
FAB 4. MARTIN MAY BE ON THE VERGE OF BREAKING OUTWith the exception of a 29-carry, 144-yard performance against New Orleans in Week 2 this year, Buccaneers running back Doug Martin hasn’t exactly looked like Dougernaut of a year ago when he led all rookies with 1,454 yards and scored a Bucs rookie record 11 touchdowns on 319 carries (4.6 avg.). Martin added 49 receptions for 472 yards and another touchdown, bringing his yardage total to 1,926 yards, which was fourth best in the league in 2012.
Through five games in 2013, Martin has 409 yards and one touchdown on 116 carries. His 3.5-yard average is a full yard behind where he finished last year, but don’t lose hope. Martin is still on pace for 1,308 rushing yards this year, and that wouldn’t exactly qualify him as a candidate for a sophomore slump.
Keep in mind that through five games last year Martin only had 323 yards and one touchdown on 84 carries. He’s already 86 yards ahead of last year’s pace, albeit with 32 more carries.
After rushing for just 45 yards on 27 carries (1.7 avg.) in one of his worst games as a pro against Arizona in a 13-10 loss in Week 4, Martin had a better performance against Philadelphia in last week’s 31-20 defeat, rushing for 67 yards on 16 carries (4.2 avg.). Tampa Bay’s interior linemen have struggled with sustaining their blocks and they picked up a few holding calls against the Eagles, which didn’t help Martin’s cause.
Right guard Davin Joseph has not played well this season in attempting to recover from a serious knee injury that kept him out of the 2012 season. He injured the other knee against Philadelphia and hasn’t practiced this week.
Left guard Carl Nicks has only played in two games due to a MRSA-infected toe, and he wasn’t terribly effective when he has played due to the fact that, like Joseph, he’s not at 100 percent.
Yet Martin was able to rip off five 100-yard rushing performances last year with both Nicks and Joseph on the sidelines, including a 251-yard, four-touchdown masterpiece in a 42-32 win at Oakland on November 4. Tampa Bay’s interior line consisted of Jeremy Zuttah, Ted Larsen and Jamon Meredith at the time, and those three are expected to be in the starting lineup this week if Joseph can’t go – and that might not be a bad thing.
For the Bucs to snap their losing streak and win games, they need Martin to break out like he did about this time last year. With rookie quarterback Mike Glennon improving and completing close to 60 percent of his passes, Tampa Bay appears to be on the verge of making opponents pay for stacking the box with eight and nine defenders and trying to take away Martin and the Bucs running game.
Don’t lose faith in Martin just yet, and certainly don’t drop him from your fantasy football team. His best may be yet to come.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• With several challenging games remaining on Tampa Bay’s 2013 schedule, the Buccaneers absolutely need to beat the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday. The Bucs have yet to take advantage of golden opportunities to beat wounded teams this season.
Arizona was missing five starters on defense in Week 4, including three of its four starting linebackers, and the Bucs could only muster up a pitiful 10 points in a 13-10 fourth quarter loss. Last week against Philadelphia, the Eagles were without starting quarterback Michael Vick and saw backup Nick Foles shred the Bucs for 296 yards passing and four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing).
With Falcons star wide receiver Julio Jones out for the year, and possibly not having wide receiver Roddy White (hamstring/ankle), running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) and left tackle Sam Baker (knee) available on Sunday, the Buccaneers have a perfect opportunity to take advantage of an injury-ravaged opponent. With Atlanta missing so much offensive firepower, Sunday’s game should be a low-scoring affair, and it seems unlikely that the Falcons could generate more than 23 points against a usually stout Buccaneers defense. That could help out rookie Mike Glennon and Tampa Bay’s improving, yet underwhelming offense.
I called for Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano to be fired after losing last week’s game against Philadelphia. If he and his coaching staff can’t make the necessary second-half adjustments that they have struggled to do this year, resulting in the Bucs getting outscored 48-13 over the final two quarters, then it will only reinforce my assertion that it’s time for the Glazers to make a head-coaching change. The Falcons are ripe for the picking.
• One of the more impressive things about Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is how precise his throws are on underneath and intermediate routes. While he needs work on connecting on his deep passes, which he has struggled to do this year, Glennon throws a very catchable ball.
“I’ve always felt like I threw the ball really well,” Glennon said. “It comes off my hand really well, and when you have guys like [wide receiver] Vincent [Jackson] catching the ball, it makes it a little easier on you. I consider myself to be able to throw the ball really well. I hope to continue to improve on it and become more accurate.”
Bucs backup wide receiver Tiquan Underwood has spent more time catching passes from Glennon, who was the team’s second-string quarterback during the offseason and training camp than either Jackson or Mike Williams has. Underwood remembers the positive first impression that Glennon made during the OTAs (organized team activities).
“When I first saw him I remember thinking, ‘Okay, this is a tall kid with a strong arm,’” Underwood said. “He throws a tight spiral. I mean a real tight spiral. You notice it as soon as he throws the ball. As a guy that has played in this league I realize that if this kid learns the playbook and learns what he’s doing, he’s going to be a real player in this league. Whether it’s now or in the future, he’s going to be a player. His time has come pretty early, and he’s making the best of it so far.”
Glennon’s 86 pass attempts are the second-most in a player’s first two games in NFL history, behind only Raiders quarterback Todd Marinovich’s 99. His 50 completions in his first two starts are the most by a rookie since Cam Newton in 2011.
• It is one thing to be outscored 48-13 in the second half of games, as the Bucs have this year, but it’s astonishing to think that Tampa Bay’s offense has yet to score an offensive touchdown in the second half of the first five games this season. Enough said.
• Attention, beer drinkers. Join me at Biertoberfest to celebrate the launch of Two Henrys Brewing Company, a division of Keel & Curley Winery, this Saturday, October 19. Two Henrys Brewing Company, which is the official beer of Pewter Report, is hosting Biertoberfest at its company headquarters in Plant City, located at 5210 W. Thonotosassa Road, which is about 15 minutes east of Tampa off I-4.
Biertoberfest begins at 10:00 a.m. and lasts until 10:00 p.m. and is a family-friendly event that will feature all sorts of fun, such as one of Tampa’s largest cornhole tournament with cash prizes, live music, food, art and crafts, and of course, beer.
To register for the cornhole tournament click here. For more information on Biertoberfest, call (813) 752-9100 or click here.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR’s Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons’ Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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