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David Draws the Line

Posted Nov 14, 2013

LB Lavonte David may lead mostly by example with his Pro Bowl level of play, but he is learning to speak up at critical moments, as he did to great effect Monday night...Plus injury updates and other notes

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LB Lavonte David's motivational words during crunch time on Monday night represent another step forward in his game
  • Unselfish P Michael Koenen is making the Bucs' directional punting approach work while still dominating on kickoffs
  • DE Da'Quan Bowers did not practice on Thursday as the Bucs continue to evaluate him for the possibility of a concussion
The last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced the Atlanta Falcons – a 31-23 loss at the Georgia Dome in Week Seven – linebacker Lavonte David put on a show.  During Atlanta's first four possessions of that game, David racked up nine tackles, three of them for losses, and was the literal embodiment of that sometimes overused phrase: He's making plays from sideline to sideline.

It was after that game that we started to beat the drum for David's Pro Bowl candidacy.  Others have followed suit, from teammate Darrelle Revis to, just this week, Atlanta Head Coach Mike Smith.  None other than Buccaneer legend John Lynch contends that David is playing "as well as any linebacker in this league."

It's good that others are taking the time to sing David's praises, because he certainly isn't going to do it himself.  The second-year linebacker out of Nebraska is naturally taciturn, especially off the field, and he does little to call attention to himself.  It's fortunate that his performances on the field have done that for him.  You're simply not going to hear David lobbying for a Pro Bowl bid, though he doesn't deny that it would be a meaningful honor, especially this early in his career.

“It would be big, going to Hawaii your second year," David said.  "That would be amazing, but you know it’s not up to me. I’m just going to go out there and continue to do what I do, play football, playing the game I love. I’m going to leave that to the fans and all my peers.”

(Click here to cast your Pro Bowl votes.)

David's quiet demeanor off the field gives rise to the idea that he is not vocal on the field, either.  And while there may be some truth to that, he does have to communicate quite a bit as the team's defensive play-caller, and he isn't above ripping off a well-timed motivational message.

"The perception is he’s not a real vocal or outspoken leader," said Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan. "He definitely leads by his example, how productive and how competitive he plays.  He’s the core of our defense as far as making all the calls and he plays every single down in all the different personnel groups. I think you’ll probably see a little bit more of [David's motivational words] as he gets more comfortable with that kind of role.”

For David, it's a matter of choosing the right moment, and as it turns out he chose quite well on Monday night against the Miami Dolphins.  Since that game, reports have leaked out that, with the Bucs holding onto a three-point lead but the Dolphins holding onto the football at their own 33-yard line with two minutes to play, David decided to draw the line.  On several occasions this year, his team had failed to hold a similar lead in the closing minutes, and he decided that trend could not continue one more game.  So he spoke up during the two-minute warning, and his teammates listened.

“It was just one of those moments where something needed to be said," David explained. "We were in a situation where at the beginning of the year, we were in that same exact situation, last drive and we didn’t come up on the winning end of it. We got in that situation again, I felt like I should step up and say something to get the guys motivated, get the guys hyped up. My words, I didn’t think they were much, but it motivated guys and we got the job done.”

Indeed they did.  Immediately after play resumed, defensive ends William Gholston and Da'Quan Bowers shot through the line on first-and-10 to sack Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill for eight yards.  On the very next snap, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy shot through the line for another sack, this one putting Miami into a third-and-28 hole.  Two plays later, cornerback Darrelle Revis intercepted a desperation bomb by Tannehill and the Bucs' first victory of the season was sealed.

-- LB Lavonte David is becoming more comfortable leading with his words as well as his actions
After the first of those two sacks, David spoke up again, urging the big men in front of him to keep the pressure on Tannehill.

“Me and Gerald, we always talk throughout the whole game," said David.  "We play behind each other most of the time, he motivates me and I motivate him.  It was one of those times where you’ve got to let the D-linemen work. I told the whole defensive line, ‘You've got a chance to go get the quarterback, so go get the quarterback and let everybody see what y’all are made of,’ and that’s what happened."

David has been making it happen all season with his Pro Bowl-level of play.  As he continues to evolve into more of a leader on the Buccaneers' defense, he's learning how to make it happen for his teammates, as well.

* David's motivational speech came after the Bucs had come back from four points down to take a 22-19 lead on running back Bobby Rainey's fourth-quarter touchdown run, but also after an early 15-0 lead had slipped away from the home team.  The third quarter went poorly for Tampa Bay, as Miami scored a touchdown and two field goals in rapid succession, helped along by a couple of poor special teams moments within a five-minute span.

The first of those two moments started out well, as punter Michael Koenen blasted a 62-yard punt out of the back of his own end zone, potentially saving the Bucs from a bad turn in field position.  Unfortunately, the Bucs' cover team allowed return man Marcus Thigpen to negate more than half of that kick with a 34-yard runback.  That was definitely not Schiano's favorite moment in the game.

“It’s inexcusable, number one," he said. "We had guys not go to their landmarks, we had guys who lost contain. We can’t do that. That’s how you lose games right there – field position. Fortunately, the defense was able to bow their neck and make them kick a field goal, but it was a tremendous punt, and all we’ve got to do is do our job as a coverage unit and we’re going to get him down.”

Koenen's next punt didn't work out as well, as it came off the side of his foot and traveled only 21 yards, from the Bucs' 20 to the 41, setting up a short Miami touchdown drive.  That one was pinned on Koenen, but it was really just a blip in what was a sneakily good night for the Bucs' punter and kickoff specialist.

"Three [punts] inside the 10, three touchbacks on the kickoffs and two inside the fifteen-yard line, that’s pretty impressive. The one slid off the side of his foot. Mike is such an unselfish player, because we’ve asked him to do some things in the punting game that, without a shadow of a doubt, decrease his gross punting, but he’s a team guy and truly just wants to win. He’s a good example to use with our football team about unselfishness and selflessness.”

Schiano's reference to selflessness is aimed at the fact that the team has chosen to emphasize directional punting, attempting to cut down on long return opportunities by forcing the return man to one sideline or another.  The strategy is sound, but it also cuts down on the overall yardage that Koenen's kicks usually travel and his resulting spot in the league's stat tables.  But the Bucs know how valuable he is, particularly since he's also one of the best touchback producers in the league on kickoffs.

"Certainly we understand the risk involved [in directional punting], but when you have a punter like Mike, it gives you a chance to do things like that," said Schiano.  "[Those are] the things I’m alluding to as far as him being unselfish, because when you directional punt, you certainly lose distance, but it helps you in your coverage unit, beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

* DE Da'Quan Bowers, who is being evaluated for the possibility of a concussion after Monday night's game, was not cleared to practice on Thursday.  His status for Sunday's game against Atlanta has not yet been determined.

"He’s undergoing those tests, he’s going through the protocols, so we’ll probably know more tomorrow," said Schiano.  "It’s a day later getting started with it because of the Monday night [game].”

If Bowers is unable to play against Atlanta, the Bucs do have some defensive line depth to help them get through the game.  Rookie defensive end Steven Means was inactive for the Monday night game but would likely get to put his helmet on Sunday if Bowers is out.  Fellow rookie William Gholston, who combined with Bowers for his first NFL sack late in Monday's game, might pick up some extra snaps but it would likely be a committee effort.

“I think we'd do it a couple different ways," said Schiano.  "Gholston had a good number of reps the other night. I thought he handled himself well, so he’ll probably continue to get some, but there’s other guys who could fill in as well.”

Schiano said Gholston has recently earned some more playing time through good work on the practice field.

“He’s growing up," said the coach.  "He’s learning how to use all his strengths. He’s a very strong guy and he’s learning how to mobilize that strength and use it effectively. The things he did against Miami, I think, played to his strengths as well.”

Bowers and guard Carl Nicks (foot) were the only two Buccaneers who did not practice at all on Thursday, as CB Mike Adams returned to work in a limited fashion.  All of the developments on the Bucs' official injury report on Thursday were positive ones, as wide receiver Vincent Jackson (knee), guard Davin Joseph (knee) and wide receiver Chris Owusu all participated fully after being limited on Wednesday.  Owusu is the only one of those three who has missed a game this season; the young receiver is trying to return from a foot injury that has kept him out of the last three contests.

There were quite a few status changes for the Falcons between Thursday and Friday, most of them encouraging for the Atlanta staff.  LB Sean Weatherspoon, who was just re-activated from the injured reserve/designated for return list, went from limited to full participation, increasing the likelihood that he would be back in action on Sunday in Tampa.  Running back Steven Jackson also returned to full participation on Thursday, and two players who sat out on Wednesday – defensive tackle Corey Peters and running back Jason Snelling – took part in the second day of work on a limited basis.

However, the status of tight end Tony Gonzalez did not change, as he missed a second straight day of practice due to a toe injury he sustained on Sunday against Seattle.  In addition, wide receiver Harry Douglas was added to Thursday's report when he did not practice due to a knee ailment.

The full Thursday injury reports for both teams are below.

Buccaneers:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

CB Mike Adams

Knee

Limited Participation

S Mark Barron

Knee

Limited Participation

DE Da'Quan Bowers

Concussion

Did Not Participate

CB Danny Gorrer

Groin

Full Participation

WR Vincent Jackson

Knee

Full Participation

G Davin Joseph

Knee

Full Participation

G Carl Nicks

Foot

Did Not Participate

WR Chris Owusu

Foot

Full Participation

T Donald Penn

Calf

Full Participation

DT Akeem Spence

Wrist

Full Participation


Falcons:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

WR Harry Douglas

Knee

Did Not Participate

TE Tony Gonzalez

Toe

Did Not Participate

DE Malliciah Goodman

Calf

Did Not Participate

RB Steven Jackson

Toe

Full Participation

DT Peria Jerry

Toe

Limited Participation

DT Corey Peters

Knee

Limited Participation

RB Jason Snelling

Knee

Limited Participation

WR Roddy White

Shoulder

Limited Participation

LB Sean Weatherspoon

Foot

Full Participation

 

Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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