For the second year in a row, a rookie made all of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive play calls in the regular-season opener.
A year ago, it was Mason Foster, a third-round pick out of Washington who stepped immediately into the starting lineup at middle linebacker, and immediately into the defensive quarterback role. Foster was still at that position when the Buccaneers' defense came out on Sunday for their 2012 opener against the Carolina Panthers – in fact, he stopped DeAngelo Williams for a loss of four on the very first play from scrimmage – but it was his new running mate, Lavonte David, who made all the calls this time.
That was not any kind of statement on the job Foster did with the play-calling last year. Rather, it was an indication of how David, the rookie second-rounder out of Nebraska, has already become to the Buccaneers' defense. Essentially, David got the call because he was the only linebacker who was expected to be on the field for every defensive snap…and he found this out not long before he took on the assignment.
"It was Saturday, the day before the game," said David nonchalantly. "They let me know I was going to have to make all the calls because I was playing the dime Mike and I was going to be the only linebacker in the game, so there was no point in switching who was making the calls."
In the Bucs' 4-3 base defense, David mans the weakside linebacker spot, with Foster still in the middle and Quincy Black on the strong side. When the team goes to a "nickel" defense (at least in Game One), Black comes out and is replaced by a defensive back. When it goes to the "dime," Foster also comes out in favor of a sixth DB, leaving only David to play linebacker. So, no matter the package, it was the rookie looking to the sideline to get the call from the coaches and relay it to his team.
David said he got a lot of help from his teammates, especially Foster thanks to his similar experience, and there was only one thing he needed to fix early on. He wasn't loud enough.
"Yeah, I had to be a little louder, because I was looking to the sideline for the call and I had to echo it to everybody else," said David. "They told me to scream it out. Having that responsibility was real critical."
He obviously handled it well. The Buccaneers' new-look defense held Carolina to 10 points and 301 yards, including just 10 yards on the ground, tying a Tampa Bay single-game record. They caused two turnovers, sacked Cam Newton twice and generally swarmed to the ball like the great Tampa Bay defenses of old. David's calm relaying of the play calls obviously helped, and impressed his more seasoned teammates.
"Hey man, that's not easy to do," said McCoy. "That's not easy to do in college, to go out there and get all your reads and make all the calls. That guy came in and did it in the NFL, opening day, and wasn't shaken at all. He never looked nervous. [Fans] can just see what's happening; you don't see everybody's eyes and faces out there. He never looked shaken, never looked nervous, and now I see why we drafted him. He's going to be around for a while."