FAB 4. David Will Bring The Bucs’ Blitz Back In 2018
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David led the team in tackles with 101, forced fumbles with five, fumble recoveries and also scored a touchdown. By all accounts, David had a very good season and was worthy of a Pro Bowl appearance that never happened. The reason? It was likely due to the fact that despite creating five takeaways, David didn’t register an interception or a sack, which are the “money stats” that get outside linebackers to the Pro Bowl.
David has 10 career interceptions in four of his six years in Tampa with 2014 and ’17 being the only seasons he failed to pick off a pass. When it comes to rushing the passer, David has 18 career sacks, including five in 2016, but last year was the first year he failed to take down a quarterback.
David has only missed five games in his NFL career, but three of them came last season after he suffered a sprained ankle in a Week 2 loss at Minnesota. Missing three games cost him opportunities to get a sack or an interception, but David insists there were plenty of chances to make those plays in the 13 games he suited up for.
“It did sting,” David said. “It was frustrating, but that’s all on me. I have to do a better job of perfecting my pass rush and coach when the coaches give me the opportunity I have to take advantage of it. As a linebacker in dime or as a WILL linebacker you don’t get that many opportunities, so I have to take advantage of them when I get the chance to rush wherever I line up whether it’s A gap or D gap. Wherever it’s at I have to beat my guy off the ball and make a play.”
If I would have told David before last season that he would have had zero sacks in 2017 he would have thought I was crazy.
“I would have laughed in your face,” David said. “But it happened and I have to take it on the chin. That was one area where we didn’t get the job done. We have to do a better job of getting after the quarterback when our number is called.”
Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith never made any excuses publicly about the lack of personnel or pass rush he had to deal with last year, but he was hamstrung by a front four that generated only 20 of the team’s league-low 22 sacks last season. The linebacker corps only produced two sacks last year as a result. With young, inexperienced players like Vernon Hargreaves III and Ryan Smith struggling at cornerback, that limited the amount of blitzes Smith would call for fear of isolating Hargreaves or Smith in man coverage too often and surrender a big play or a touchdown.
“For the most part us linebackers had to drop in coverage, especially with the injuries and things like that,” David said. “We had to throw some of our guys in on the D-line to help rush, so we couldn’t blitz as much as we wanted because everything had to be simple with guys learning new roles. It was hard, but it was part of the game plan we had to run. It hurt me, but it hurt everybody.”
With outside linebackers Kendell Beckwith and Devante Bond having to see some snaps at defensive end to help with the pass rush while Noah Spence and Robert Ayers, Jr. were injured, David and Alexander spent more time in pass coverage than rushing the passer. That will change this year with the addition of Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry, as well as Spence’s return. During Thursday’s training camp practice, David lined up at the line of scrimmage next to Curry and blitzed off the edge, and he’ll see plenty of sacks through the A and B gaps, too.
Third down is a blitzing down in the NFL, and the Bucs were the best defense in the NFL stopping conversions in the league in 2016 with a 34.36 percent conversion rate. Last year, Tampa Bay was the worst, allowing opponents to convert 48.15 percent of their third downs. That’s an increase of nearly 14 percent – in the wrong direction.
“The biggest step forward – third down,” David said. “The year before last we were good on third down then last year we were bad. So we’re just trying to get back to that elite level on third down defense. There were a lot of situations on third-and-long where we gave up big plays. It’s as simple as that. That’s the one area we really need to improve on.”
In an effort to stay healthy, get stronger and be a more effective pass rusher, David has worked hard in the weight room this offseason focusing on his shoulders, which have given him problems over the years. He’s noticeably bigger this year.
“I was definitely trying to get bigger,” David said. “I’m 234, which is the biggest I’ve ever been.
“I’m ready to bang. One of my days during workouts I focus on my shoulders and try to make the ligaments stronger and things like that. As a linebacker I just try to use my shoulders a lot.”
David plans on burying his shoulder into quarterbacks’ chests this year with far greater regularity than he did a year ago. He posted five sacks in 2016 and a career-high seven in 2013. David knows how to blitz and get to the QB. His sacks were sorely missed last year, but look for David to be unleashed on blitzes with far greater regularity this season.