When Lavonte David leads by example, he is representing the exact specimen of what his coaches would like a Buccaneer to be, in every way conceivable. In team history, that's the type of description one would reserve for, say, a Lee Roy Selmon or a Derrick Brooks. David is only in his second NFL season, and thus it's not reasonable at this point to equate him with one Hall-of-Famer or another soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer, but at this stage of his career he couldn't possibly be more impressive.
"If you could say, 'How do you want a guy – as a Buc – to perform, you [would] just point to him," said Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano after David's latest star turn.
In Sunday's 27-6 win over the Buffalo Bills, David led an oppressive Buccaneer defense with a stat line that just goes on and on: nine tackles (a team high), two tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions, two quarterback hits, two passes defensed. In the process, he pushed his season totals to 116 tackles, six sacks and five interceptions. Since 1982, when sack statistics became official, only three NFL players have combined at least 100 tackles with at least six sacks and at least five interceptions. He's the first to do so since Rodney Harrison in 2000. He's the first linebacker to do so, period.
“I think he is playing as well as any linebacker in the league, I really do," said Schiano. "He does everything: tackle, [defend the] pass, blitz. There’s nothing that guy can’t do. He’s a really fine football player and, as I’ve said before, just even a better person. You can’t ask for a better work ethic, everything about the guy. He’s special.”
“That’s a big deal, isn’t it?" he said, a bit bemused. "It’s just an accomplishment; I really don’t pay attention to the statistical things, but it’s all a matter of just playing hard. I love playing this game. I try my best week-in and week-out and great things happen. Obviously, that’s a great accomplishment. This game of football has been around a long time. To be the seventh player on that list is amazing."
Both of David's interceptions on Sunday came off balls that had already touched at least one other player. He got his first when Manuel's pass to Stevie Johnson was a bit too high and hot, resulting in a big deflection down the middle of the field. He got his second when cornerback
"If it wasn’t for my teammates doing what they’re supposed to do – everybody just flying to the football, getting hands on footballs, creating lanes for sack and things like that – I wouldn’t be in this position," David acknowledged. "I never single myself out; it’s a team football game. I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for my team.”
That might sound like forced humility, but David truly does not seek the spotlight, nor does he try to put himself above the team. Schiano lauded the second-year defender for his work ethic, his attention to detail and his practice habits, and also said that David has recently begun to take on more of a direct leadership role. And as for his two deflected-pass interceptions on Sunday, Schiano insists that is not a matter of blind luck. Like David's one-year teammate, Ronde Barber – the only player in NFL history with at least 40 interceptions and at least 25 sacks – David puts himself in position to let preparation meet opportunity.
“He can run so well," said Schiano. "He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s big enough [and] he can run like a safety. Then he plays relentlessly, he plays with tremendous effort, and he just goes to the football relentlessly. When you do that – people call it luck, [but] I don’t think it’s luck; you make your own luck by playing hard."
Barber was another one of those rare players who set the mold for exactly what his coaches would want from every player on the roster. David doesn't play the same position as Barber, but he seems to have the same knack for being in the right place at the right time, and that comes from preparation. After Sunday's game, David deflected attempts to put him in Barber's category, but did say he strives to play the game in the same way and he thinks his teammates do, as well.
I just love the game of football. Every Sunday I’m going to come out and try my hardest, give my heart for the team and guys that are on the field with me.
David was a prime Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in 2012 after the Bucs took him with a second-round pick, and he's quickly developing into one of the most impactful defenders in the game. He is doing it in a way that brings to mind some of the greatest names in franchise history, and he may someday find himself in that same company. For now, he's simply going about his business and, yes, leading by example.
"I’m just playing the game that I love," said David. "I just love the game of football. Every Sunday I’m going to come out and try my hardest, give my heart for the team and guys that are on the field with me. ”