Lavonte David will miss some time in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp and preseason due to a knee injury, temporarily robbing the defense of one of its leaders and key performers. Fortunately, the Buccaneers have another very experienced and productive player ready to step in during David's absence.
After David missed a third straight camp practice on Monday, Head Coach Bruce Arians provided an update on the linebacker's status.
"Lavonte had a little knee procedure," Arians explained. "We're going to hold him out for a little while. It's nothing serious, just a little meniscus tear. [They] fixed it up yesterday so he'll be ready to go soon."
Arians said that David's injury would not keep him out for the start of the regular season, which is still 34 days away. Tampa Bay begins its preseason schedule on Friday evening in Pittsburgh, however, and when they do it will likely be sixth-year veteran Deone Bucannon lining up in David's usual spot. The Buccaneers believe they have a potentially outstanding duo of inside linebackers in David and rookie first-round pick Devin White, but they are also happy with the depth at that spot.
"Deone stepped in right now," said Arians. "We've got about four or five guys; it's really great competition at the inside linebacker position. All those guys are position-flexible, but Deone has jumped in first."
Indeed, Bucannon has been paired with White for most of the first-team snaps through the three practices that David has missed. He knows the defense well, having spent his first four seasons under Arians – and his first under Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles – in Arizona. Arians and the Cardinals drafted Bucannon in the first round in 2014 and in the subsequent years found that they could employ him all over the field, in particular at both linebacker and safety. He is listed as a LB/S on the Bucs' roster, the only player with that specific designation.
After a fifth year in Arizona under a different coaching staff, Bucannon signed with the Bucs in the spring, a few months after Arians took over as the team's new head coach. Bucannon came in knowing that Arians would lean on his versatility again, but now he is fixing a very specific problem for the defense, for a few weeks, at least.
"I'm always ready," said Bucannon, who started 56 of the 70 games he played in Arizona, including his last 41 under Arians from 2015-17. "I'm ready for whatever the coaches want; that's what I came here for. It doesn't matter what role it is – it could be linebacker, it could be safety, it could be special teams – I'm going to do it to the best of my ability. That's why I came here, to play for this great team, play for these fans and play for these coaches. I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to the opportunity. I'm going to continue to grind and get better, but at the same time I wish for the best and hope [David] gets out here as soon as possible. I'm hoping he's a quick healer."
In addition to Bucannon, the Buccaneers also have five other reserve inside linebackers in Kevin Minter, Jack Cichy, Devante Bond, Corey Nelson and Emmanuel Smith. Minter, too, has an advanced knowledge of the defense having played under Arians with the Cardinals from 2013 through 2017. Both former Cardinals can use that experience as an advantage, and until David went down they were running together as the second-team pair of inside linebackers.
"It helps them," said Arians. "They know what to expect. They can answer questions for the other guys on what to expect. They're here because I know they're good football players. They're tone-setters."
David has missed only seven games in his first seven seasons in the league, including two last year. A former Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro, he is the only player in the NFL to record at least 500 tackles, at least 20 sacks and at least 10 interceptions during that seven-year span. The Buccaneers obviously want one of their top playmakers back in the middle of their defense as soon as possible, but in the interim they can confidently turn to Bucannon in that role.