Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs linebackers make a splash

TAMPA

Not all of the noise emanating from One Buc Place is about missed team photos, reportedly rigged captain votes and fines for hunting heads. There is a loud chorus singing the praises of the Bucs' bumper crop of linebackers — Lavonte David, Mason Foster and Dekoda Watson — who have made quite a racket in last-second losses to the Jets and Saints. "They've been playing lights out," Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "They're the strength of our team." That was never more apparent than last week against the Saints, when David had 11/2 sacks and Watson and Foster intercepted Drew Brees. Foster turned his pick into an 85-yard mad dash to the end zone, escorted the last 50 yards by David — who occupied Brees, the last hurdle to the goal line. "I owe him lunch for that," Foster said. "I was dead tired, and he ran with me the whole way. That's my brother, and I love playing next to him. So it was great to have him blocking for me. "I knew if I could stay on Lavonte's hip, he would do everything to help me score." All three starting linebackers have at least one sack and an interception, the first time since 1982 three NFL teammates have checked those boxes after two weeks of the season.

David, 23, the fastest and most instinctive of the group, made a huge impact as a second-round pick from Nebraska last season, leading the Bucs in tackles and calling all of the signals. This season, he leads the team with 21/2 sacks, three tackles-for-loss and four quarterback hits.

Foster, 24, is in his third season from Washington and has made the biggest improvement.

Before this season, he looked, at times, as if he was plodding and unsure of himself while being a liability in coverage.

Watson, 25, out of Florida State, excelled on special teams for three seasons before winning the strongside spot in training camp.

To be fair, the unit is even deeper when you include Jonathan Casillas, the former Saint who signed during the offseason, and veteran Adam Hayward, who can play all three positions.

"All of those linebackers are playing great," said former Bucs safety and current Fox analyst John Lynch, who will call his third straight Tampa Bay game today. "We saw Lavonte do those things last year. He's so instinctive and fast, and he's gotten better. He didn't take his greatness for granted and is raising the bar.

"Mason is the one who has really elevated his game against the run, the pass and rushing the passer. Maybe it just took another year in the system."

The Bucs' linebackers also have shown a knack for getting into the face of quarterbacks.

Tampa Bay's nine sacks are tied with San Francisco for the NFL lead. Six have been the product of blitzing linebackers.

"It's like being back in college," Foster said. "Seeing Lavonte make 12 tackles, I've got to make 13. It's one of those things where we continue to push. He's one of my best friends, so when I see him make a play, I want to make a play, too. I don't want to sit there and listen to him talk about all the plays he made. That's what we try to do: keep trying to make plays."

Unfortunately for the Bucs, there have been two mistakes that might be the difference in them being 2-0 instead of 0-2.

After sacking and intercepting the Jets' Geno Smith, David's out-of-bounds push of the quarterback resulted in a 15-yard penalty, which led to the winning field goal.

"I felt bad for the kid," Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said.

Last week, checking out of man-to-man coverage with the play clock winding down, a communication error resulted in a blown coverage and 56-yard touchdown pass from Brees to tight end Jimmy Graham.

So much was made of the additions to the Bucs' secondary — Revis and safety Dashon Goldson — but other teams have noticed the second level of the defense.

"They've got really athletic linebackers," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "And they can really rush the quarterback.

"It's going to be a big challenge for our offense to stay on the field, convert third downs and, ultimately, score points."

Revis put it in terms only the players caught in the swirling rumors at One Buc Place could appreciate.

"Lavonte … if he doesn't get a Pro Bowl this year, something is wrong," Revis said. "It's rigged. The voting is rigged."

Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected] and can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620. Follow him on Twitter at @NFLStroud.

   
Comments
Bucs sign ex-New Hampshire RB Dalton Crossan

Bucs sign ex-New Hampshire RB Dalton Crossan

February signings in the NFL usually face long odds to stick on rosters in the fall, but the Bucs added to their running back depth on Thursday, signing former New Hampshire star Dalton Crossan.Crossan, who turns 24 on Sunday, went to training camp l...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Police: DeSean Jackson’s former Eagles teammate drove truck found wrecked with bullets, marijuana inside

Police: DeSean Jackson’s former Eagles teammate drove truck found wrecked with bullets, marijuana inside

TAMPA  — With no witnesses and no video evidence, Tampa Police have stopped investigating a case from Christmas Eve that had a truck belonging to Bucs receiver DeSean Jackson found wrecked and abandoned in a mall parking lot with hollow-po...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Brentson Buckner wants more than sacks from Bucs d-line

Brentson Buckner wants more than sacks from Bucs d-line

Much has been made of the Bucs finishing last in the NFL in sacks with just 22 during the 2017 season, but new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner says he measures success in much more than the ultimate goal of a sack."You play 1,300 plays, you hav...
Updated: 11 hours ago
New D-line coach Brentson Buckner wants to make Bucs pass rush great again

New D-line coach Brentson Buckner wants to make Bucs pass rush great again

This isn't the first time Brentson Buckner has wanted to get closer to the Bucs defensive line.As a defensive tackle for the Panthers, Buckner's team went 7-9 in 2002, the inaugural season for the NFC South.Tampa Bay won the division that year, and w...
Published: 02/21/18
Updated: 02/22/18
New Bucs assistant Brentson Buckner knows challenge of NFC South QBs

New Bucs assistant Brentson Buckner knows challenge of NFC South QBs

New Bucs defensive line coach Brentson Buckner understands full well what a challenge he'll face in trying to bring down three talented quarterbacks in the NFC South this season."Not getting much sleep," Buckner said, asked of his expectations in a d...
Published: 02/21/18
Bucs add ex-USF, Falcons LB Stephen Nicholas to coaching staff

Bucs add ex-USF, Falcons LB Stephen Nicholas to coaching staff

Dirk Koetter has filled out his 2018 coaching staff, hiring former USF and Falcons linebacker Stephen Nicholas as his new defensive quality control coach.Nicholas, 34, starred for the Bulls and played in Atlanta from 2007-13, much of that under curre...
Published: 02/21/18
Bucs release Doug Martin and Chris Baker, two of their most disappointing players in 2017

Bucs release Doug Martin and Chris Baker, two of their most disappointing players in 2017

TAMPA – Early in his rookie year, Doug Martin was told he was losing his balance because he was dropping his head as he hit the hole in a game at Oakland.He quickly corrected that mistake and wound up rushing for a career-high 251 yards against...
Published: 02/21/18
Bucs release defensive tackle Chris Baker

Bucs release defensive tackle Chris Baker

Hours after they parted ways with running back Doug Martin, the Bucs continued their initial wave of roster cuts Tuesday afternoon, releasing defensive tackle Chris Baker.Baker, 30, lasted only one season with Tampa Bay, managing just a half-sack aft...
Published: 02/20/18
Bucs release two-time Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin

Bucs release two-time Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin

TAMPA — After six up and mostly down seasons, Doug Martin's run with the Bucs is over.The two-time Pro Bowl running back was released by Tampa Bay Tuesday, a move that was expected after he failed to rush for less than 500 yards in four of the ...
Published: 02/20/18
Some big Bucs roster decisions are looming

Some big Bucs roster decisions are looming

The Bucs plan to release running back Doug Martin and defensive tackle Chris Baker sometime before the NFL scouting combine which begins Feb. 27 in Indianapolis.There likely will be more, but they still are undecided on the future of defensive ends R...
Published: 02/20/18