"When #54 talks, people are usually paying attention."
Those were the words of Buccaneers' head coach Dirk Koetter regarding linebacker Lavonte David on Wednesday.
Players and coaches alike can't seem to say enough about the man who hardly says anything himself. He may play big and loud on the field, but off of it, he's reserved, quiet and chooses his words carefully.
"He is one of the most humble guys that I've ever been around," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. "He's got a completely different demeanor in the locker room and walking around in the building than he does on the football field."
On the field, David is a monster tackler and is having a stellar season, thus far. The outside linebacker has forced four fumbles, the most of any player in the NFL – and the guy has done it in just seven games, after missing a couple with an ankle injury. He's also recovered four fumbles this season, another league best. David has 10 career fumble recoveries, which is the second-most among active players since David entered the league in 2012, behind only Houston's J.J. Watt. That total is also good for third-most in Buccaneers' history. And the guy is only 27.
Coach Smith referred to David as a 'tackle machine' on Wednesday, and he's not exaggerating in the least. David surpassed 500 career solo tackles this season in Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers. He leads the league since 2012 with 514. He has an absurd 715 total tackles in his career, good for third-most in the NFL in that same time period. Oh, and he also ranks second during that time span in tackles for loss, just for good measure. If you want more mind-busting numbers on him that will make your brain hurt, you should check out Scott Smith’s Data Crunch article on David from a couple weeks ago. It really is just stupid how good this guy is.
"He's not afraid to put his face in there and make tackles," Smith said of David's, shall we say, aggressive playing style.
When asked about how David has been able to play at such a high level this year, Coach Smith attributed it to a couple of things: confidence and being healthy. "He is playing with a lot of confidence. There is no doubt about it. I think he's got a really good understanding of what we are trying to get accomplished. He's not thinking, he is reacting.
"I think he's got a good feeling of what we are trying to get done. I still believe last year was a little bit of an anomaly. It was just my first year with him, but I don't believe he was nearly as healthy as he has been this season."
Because 67 solo tackles and 5.0 sacks for an outside linebacker is an 'off' year.
But more about David off the field. The man would have every right to strut around One Buccaneer Place, talk boisterously about himself, proclaim his stats from the top of the glass football and look down on the peasants (read: rookies) that can only hope to one day be as successful as him at the ripe old age of 27.
But he doesn't. At all. He lets his on-field play do the talking for the most part. According to defensive tackle and part-time super hero, Gerald McCoy, his demeanor is much quieter than you'd expect from someone so talented.
"Everybody is different. I feel like because you always see me dancing or joking around or whatever, it's similar to how 99 (Warren Sapp) was. He was kind of the entertainer and [Derrick] Brooks was the quiet one. He just played. That's kind of who me and Lavonte are. That is totally just a coincidence. It is not purposefully done, that's just how it goes. I think you can kind of see who we are. The Bucs posted a picture of me and Lavonte on their Instagram and you can always just kind of see our personalities when we are in pictures together.
"That's really my family. He is not just my teammate. I've said this numerous times, I have three favorite players in the NFL [and] he's been one of them since 2012. I love him. He's great. He's so good."
Well, I smell a bromance.
You'll notice that David himself isn't quoted in this story. He keeps an extremely low profile, not liking a lot of the attention that naturally falls on him given his talents on the field. But as the team skidded down a five-game losing streak leading into this past Sunday, the sleeping giant awoke, and stepped in the pregame circle before the game to address his teammates.
"It goes to show he is selfless," McCoy said about David jumping in the hype circle. "He doesn't really like talking at all. He hates it with a passion. I'm sure you guys know that he doesn't like talking. But, he does whatever is necessary for the team to win and he feels like that's what we need. If someone asks him to do that, he is going to do it.
"I didn't know who was going to get in the circle and then he hopped in the circle and I was like, 'Where do we go?' When he kept saying, 'I'm ready,' I'm like, 'If he is talking, something is about to happen.' Lavonte is great. I could talk about him all day because I love him as a person [and] as a player. He is my favorite."
Bromance: confirmed. At least on McCoy's end. But the sentiment remains: when 54 talks – people pay attention.