SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. Lavonte Is Back For The Bucs

“He’s back!” said Bucs middle linebacker Kwon Alexander following Tampa Bay’s 29-7 opening win against Chicago. “Lavonte David is back!”

David led the Bucs with nine tackles, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery against the Bears, picking up where he left off from last year when he had six tackles, a tackle for loss and two sacks the last time he stepped foot in Raymond James Stadium for a regular season game in a 17-16 win over Carolina.

“Yes, I do see that,” said Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith. “I thought that Lavonte probably from Game One to Game 16 improved. I said this earlier on that I don’t know that he was 100 percent healthy. He had some nagging injuries that he was dealing with. He looks much quicker, more decisive all through training camp and through the first game of the season. He has a good feel for playing defensive football and he’s done a good job for us. He is a guy that through the last quarter of the season last year probably led our team in splash plays and he did a nice job coming downhill the other day.”

David is indeed back. He’s back to his playmaking ways.

Bucs LB Lavonte David - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

David is back to the player that was leading the Bucs in tackles every year from 2012-2015 when he made the All-Pro team in 2013 and the Pro Bowl in 2015.

But did he really ever go away?

Statistically, you could make that argument as David’s tackle numbers improved each year he has been in the league from 139 as a rookie to 145 the next year to 146 in 2014 and 147 the following season. In his first year in Smith’s defense David recorded only 87 tackles in 16 games – 60 fewer from his Pro Bowl season in 2015.

In the second game of the 2016 campaign David failed to record a tackle – or any statistic – for the first time in his NFL career in a 40-7 loss at Arizona. David only recorded five or fewer stops in eight of the Bucs’ 16 games last year, which was unusual.

Late last season Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter was asked about David’s statistical slide.

“I’m not sure. You guys have had plenty of speculation yourselves on that and I’m not sure why, but in my eyes, I’m seeing the guy out there that made the Pro Bowl before that.”

Smith noted that Kwon Alexander’s team-high 145 tackles had something to do with it. While plays were funneled to the WILL (weakside) linebacker position in Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith’s defenses, oftentimes the MIKE (middle) linebacker is the free tackler in Mike Smith’s scheme.

“Well, they are different schemes and the WILL linebacker in the scheme that he played in, it was set up for him to be a tackler and make lots of plays,” Smith said last year. “It is somewhat different. I do believe this: I believe we all know that we can coach better and we can play better, but in terms of Lavonte, he’s been nicked up a little bit.

“Sometimes you can’t go strictly on statistics, the number of tackles, the number of assists. Sometimes you have to be in a – what we call and Dirk uses the term – you’ve got to be an ‘assist man’ on the play. You’ve got to be in your gap and you may not be able to make the play, but you’re going to put someone else in position to make it. And he’s made some, what I call, ‘game-changing plays.’ That was a game-changing play in the ball game [against Seattle], in terms of knocking the ball out, picking it up and running. Of course, we’d all like to see him score. He took a little ribbing there, but I think that’s natural, but those are the things that he’s been able to do for us and he’s like anybody. This time of the year, we’re all banged up and earlier in the season he was playing banged up and playing with some injuries, but he’s an integral part of what we’re trying to get done and will be for a long time.”

Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Getty Images

While David failed to record 100 tackles for the first time in his five-year NFL career, he did have five sacks, a team-leading four forced fumbles, four passes defensed, two fumble recoveries, in addition to a key interception returned for a touchdown in a 28-21 win at San Diego. David’s 17 tackles for loss were tied for the most in the league.

That was good enough for David to be a Pro Bowl alternate and a second-team All-Pro last season.

“I don’t think he’s not the same player that he was last year – I think he is,” Smith said last year. “I think we’ve got to do a better job as a coaching staff, putting him in positions to make plays. I think he’s a very good player. He’s a Pro Bowl player in the past. His numbers don’t show that at this point and time in the season, but he’s doing everything that we’re asking and we’ve got to make sure that we put him in some positions where he can go make some plays.”

David did that down the stretch with a key forced fumble in a 14-5 win against Seattle, his pick-six the next week at San Diego and recording four sacks in the final three games of the year while racking up 22 tackles in that trio of games.

There were times last year when Koetter was downright annoyed with the media talk of David having a down year statistically.

“Different guys play a little bit different every week – we’re not complaining one bit about Lavonte David,” Koetter said. “So, I don’t know where it’s coming from, it’s all numbers-based. I don’t really look at it that way, I just look at it, if the guy’s trying to play our defense, he’s one of our leaders, he’s one of our captains, so I think Lavonte is playing fine.”

David admits that it took him a while to learn Smith’s new defense and become comfortable with a different role for the WILL linebacker in this scheme.

“When you look back and if you could have a camera in our meeting room last year, it was crazy,” David said. “Everybody had the big eyes when we were installing, but now it’s totally different. Everybody’s talking, the whole room is communicating from the D-line to the secondary to the linebackers, and that’s amazing. Coach Smith is getting really excited about that. So, that’s really cool to see and also it translating over on the field when we’re doing walkthroughs and things like that. Guys are talking, guys are knowing what each other’s supposed to be doing, so that’s a real cool thing. It kind of picked up towards the end of the season, but we wanted to start fast at the beginning and now we have the opportunity to do so.”

Bucs LB Lavonte David - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

With nine tackles, which matched his season high from a year ago against Dallas, David got off to the fastest start of his Buccaneers teammates – although it should be noted that Alexander left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury after the first quarter and finished with just one tackle and one interception.

“I was sad being over there on the sidelines and I couldn’t turn up with him, but when I get back this week we’re going to get right back to it,” Alexander said. “We’re the best linebacker duo in the league.”

The key to David having a hot start to the season dates back to his sensational training camp and preseason.

“The guy that’s quietly having a tremendous camp is Lavonte David,” Koetter said back in August. “Lavonte didn’t have his best year he has ever had last year. He is really having a good camp right now. I think the fans will be able to see it when we start playing.”

David recorded a sack in the preseason against Jacksonville and is slated for more blitzes this year.

“He does do a good job,” Koetter said. “He is a lot better blitzer than maybe he is given credit for.”

Smith agrees and plans to use him more as a blitzer this season.

“Lavonte, I think, at the end of the year really came on as a pass rusher,” Smith said. “He became more effective as a pass rusher, we were able to design some things to allow him to get in a charge and rush the passer. I just think the overall knowledge of our defense is the thing that we’ve got to get better at across the board. I think we are light years ahead of where we were last year at this time.”

Believe it or not, David has 18 sacks in his Tampa Bay career, which ranks him second all-time for Buccaneers linebackers ahead of Derrick Brooks (13.5) and Shelton Quarles (13), and trailing only Broderick Thomas, who had 26.5 sacks from 1989-93.

Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

David is the only player in NFL history to record at least 450 tackles, at least 15 sacks and at least 10 interceptions in his first five seasons. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, David is one of only six NFL players in league history to post at least 15 sacks and 10 interceptions in his first five seasons and the latest to do so since William Thomas (1991-95). Since entering the league as the Bucs’ second-round pick in 2012, David ranks second in the NFL in solo tackles (480), second in total tackles (673), second in tackles for loss (86), tied for second in interceptions by a linebacker (10) and third in passes defensed by a linebacker (35).

Heading into his sixth NFL season, David is still well ahead of the pace set by Bucs Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks, who is widely regarded as the best player in Tampa Bay history. Through his first five years in the league, Brooks recorded 663 tackles, 51 pass breakups, eight forced fumbles, eight interceptions, 4.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries. In David’s first five years he has posted 673 tackles, 36 pass breakups, 18 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, 10 interceptions, seven fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns.

That’s 10 more tackles, 13.5 more sacks, four more forced fumbles, four more fumble recoveries, two more interceptions and two more defensive touchdowns for David.

Despite the amazing start to his NFL career, David admits that he had a down year last season and that 2016 wasn’t up to his standards.

“Last year I didn’t have my best year, so I just want to be able to get better and get back to my old self,” David said.

It’s so far, so good for the former Nebraska standout. David said that linebackers coach Mark Duffner made two videos for him to watch in the offseason. One was a highlight reel showing David all the splash plays he’s capable of making. The other was a lowlight reel, showing all of the mistakes he made and the plays he left out on the field.

Needless to say it was an eye-opener and served as motivation for the Bucs defensive captain.

“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 Coach 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 LB Lavonte David - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

David played a huge role in helping Tampa Bay’s defense force three takeaways and hold Chicago’s potent backfield of Jordan Howard, the league’s second-leading rusher last year, and electrifying rookie Tarik Cohen to just 20 yards rushing on 16 carries in Sunday’s win.

“It’s encouraging growing our confidence early and that’s what we need to start the season off fast,” David said. “You know, start the season off right the right way. Not trying to be down like how we were last year with our head in our hands. We’re trying to start fast and the sky is the limit for us. I’m just trying to keep making plays out there.”

David is off to a great start to the 2017 season, and currently is the top-rated linebacker in the NFL with a 91.3 grade, according to Pro Football Focus.

Sounds like he is starting off the season fast – as expected.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 spent six years 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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wnb0395

Scott, another great fab 5. As to part 3 about the ratings. I agree with what you have but I have to add that I believe the athletes not standing for the national has had a major effect on the ratings. Following facebook and twitter I see many posts about how many Americans feel its disrespect to our military forces who are currently serving and have died for this country to not stand and honor them. I get that athletes want to protest and have the right to protest and them not standing is not to disrespect our military forces,… Read more »

BucWild02

I am not a fan of hijacking the national anthem for a discussion on race relations or politics or policing, especially at the expense of offending those who have sacrificed and served. Also, football is my entertainment. It’s my getaway from the reality of everyday life. I am a white, middle aged, middle class guy who has served. I am not a racist. Colin Kaepernick is mixed. He is probably wealthy. He is a public figure with a platform, only because he is a part of the NFL. By taking a knee during the national anthem, he has risked his… Read more »

wnb0395

I can think of a more effective way. You can do what the Dallas Cowboys did last night. I loved it. They protested before the national anthem, then stood up for the anthem so they didn’t offend anyone, while still holding arms. It was a non offensive protest that also promoted unity. My Grandpa Died serving this country. I never got to meet him. I was raised in a different era with respect. Majority of the kids now days don’t have any respect or morals. I was taught to always stand for the national anthem to honor those who are… Read more »

Iowabucfan

I was just shocked last year that David had no tackles in the Arizona game. I still find it unbelievable. He is too good of player for that to happen. I am definitely glad to see that he is back. My favorite touchdown celebration was Billy “White Shoes” Johnson of the former Houston Oilers. It was unique, yet simple. I also liked Barry Sanders. He get into the end zone, which was often, and just flipped the ball to the referee. He acted like he been there before and it was par for the course. To me, that was more… Read more »

e

To chime in on #3, Scott… I would say that Goodell, over his tenure, has turned an institution into a commodity. I think that when you look at the overall arc of the popularity of the game, the NFL has reached, and is now surpassing that profit-pushing saturation point. NFL games don’t feel like they used to back in the day. I believe that when you are watch CFB these days, you get a feeling that those players are fighting for something a little more, even though it’s still a business. I agree that they need to only have one… Read more »

cgmaster27

Great Fab 5. It’s funny as a fan , when a player is so good for so ling, you kind of take them for granted. David is one of those players. We all agree he had a bit of a down year last year, but when you see his career stats so far, that is eye opening. I think he continues and has a big week this week with a pick. I love the f act that the NFL relaxed the rules on scoring celebrations. I love them. Scoring a TD has to be an exhilarating experience, let them enjoy… Read more »

tpeluso

Please, let’s not go down the road of college’s overtime rules. I hate how they take special teams play (save for field goals) out of the game, I hate how they gift the offense a shot at a makeable field goal without doing anything, and I hate how they artificially inflate scores (which you mention, but it’s important when scoring still factors into half of the NFL’s tiebreaker criteria, even if they’re the ones that are the last resort). The NFL’s existing overtime system has produced plenty of exciting and controversial moments, and is not screaming out to be messed… Read more »

Naplesfan

The college football playoff system is fine, it’s very entertaining. But I don’t think it works so good for NFL. Better to keep but tweak the existing rule … no team should lose a playoff game just because they lost the coin toss, even if the other team scores a TD. After all, everyone knows that defenses are usually all gassed out at the end of four quarters, so whoever gets the ball first is most likely to win without the other team demonstrating whether it can score a TD too. After one possession and it’s still tied,then whoever scores… Read more »

surferdudes

Could the down ratings have anything to do with the fact millions of people were affected by two massive hurricanes? I know I didn’t have power for five days, and no internet, cable, for 12 days.

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Naplesfan

On making the NFL more entertaining: 1 – too much of a good thing ain’t good … Thursday night football cheapens the product, get rid of it asap 2 – adding more reviewable plays, nope … we spend far too much time watching flags fly, ref’s chin-pulling and staring at video screens, and waiting for the faceless person back in the review booth to issue the Ten Commandments. Speed makes excitment 3 – too many late night games (again, partly “less is more”) … for people who have to get up early the next morning, an 8:30 kickoff results in… Read more »

cobraboy

#6: Stop the political baloney and Social Justice Warriors from alienating fans. As a former player and lifetime fan, the politics and SJW in the NFL the last couple of years just about has me ready to just walk away from it. That, IMO, is the #1 reason the NFL is slipping and unless the NFL draws a line in the sand, will continue its slide. The #’s 1-5 are peripheral problems to the core issue. Thay6 may be irritating, but #6 pi$$e$ me off. I am a football fan to get away from that crap. Why would I tolerate… Read more »

Horse

Next Owner/Player Contract requires both sides to wake up that they might be over pricing their product; younger people have more toys for options than in past decades. Kids aren’t playing football like they use to; therefore the present and future watching market is shrinking; it’s as simple as that. I have never supported individual celebrating when this is a team sport; it’s just not necessary. Just my opinion.

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spartan

The biggest argument against the “we know the risks” is that is not the current players who submit the lawsuits. It’s either those who are now retired and broke or a family member after the fact. Case in point the concussion settlement. Do you honestly think that is going to be the last one?

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XpfcWintergreen

This is an old-timer’s response to what I see as short sighted trends in today’s NFL. This is an open plea to the owners and the NFL brain trust. Eliminate the Thursday night games. Do NOT expand the schedule to more than 16 games. (After all the payers are just human beings. They are not really supermen.) Do not ruin this game. Don’t let greed ruin the product. Find some other CREATIVE way to squeeze out the extra $$ you think you need. Do not follow the lead of what happened to major league baseball. MLB used to be America’s… Read more »

gafikdetail

the NFL has plateaued… it’s as simple as that… has nothing to do with politics or social justice… kids these days are too busy playing in their phones & trying to be social media stars instead of watching or playing football… as profitable as the NFL has been and still is where murders, rapes, domestic violence, racists rants, DUIs, vehicular homicides & dog fighting didn’t make a dent in it’s popularity but a silent protest is it’s death knell? ROFL get the hell out of hear!!

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scubog

The NFL might not be as popular as it was a few years ago, but it’s still one of America’s favorite pastimes. Almost as popular as posting stupid stuff on social media about which the recipients really don’t care. Instead of hitting the LIKE symbol, there should be a pile of bull crap symbol indicating that you don’t give a shit. And that my friends is what has happened to the NFL. Many former fans have become apathetic and no longer have the passion. Too much of a good thing. Back a few years ago most of us football fans… Read more »

Horse

Scubog, we getting older and are more conscious in prioritizing our time. My hat is off to you four still going out there in the hot sun and supporting the Bucs; I myself passed this effort a few years ago. I still love the Bucs and support them.

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spartan

By trying to be everything to everyone, and not being offensive in way, they end up being nothing to no-one.

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drdneast

Scubog, once again I agree with many things on your list, but the Vikings horn? Come on, I hate it when it’s blowing against us, but during the rest of the games I love it and I have even heard some players say they love it as well. So I’m going to quit watching NFL games because a washed up QB and Michael Bennett, who I respect as both a player and a person, decide to sit down during the National Anthem. Why” They don’t even play for the Bucs. What do I care what they are doing in San… Read more »