TAMPA — When linebacker Lavonte David set up a lunch with Bucs legend Derrick Brooks a couple of months ago, he just wanted to get to know the future Hall of Famer a little.
But in the two-hour gathering at a Lee Roy Selmon's restaurant, David got a whole lot more.
That included the bill.
"He's the youngest," says Brooks, 40, laughing.
That was fine with David, 23, who grew up in Miami watching Brooks revolutionize the weakside linebacker position. Like Brooks, who retired after the 2008 season, David also was doubted because of his size — 6 feet 1, 233 pounds — making up for the lack of it with speed and savvy.
Ever since David was drafted in the second round by Tampa Bay in 2012, slated to start in Brooks' old spot, there have been comparisons — perhaps unfair — between the two.
"It's an honor," David said. "I'm just being myself. I'm Lavonte David; he's Derrick Brooks. That's some really big shoes to fill, so I can't even put myself in the … same sentence."
But once the two were at the same table at Selmon's, Brooks shocked David by putting in perspective how impressive David's rookie season was with him racking up 139 tackles and making the defensive play calls.
"He's very unique," Brooks said. "I think he was taken aback a little bit when I would tell him how much more he accomplished than what I had done going into my second year. I shared with him how I had the luxury of having Hardy Nickerson as a defensive leader of my team and I didn't have to step into those shoes any sooner than I did.
"I let him know I'm available to be what Hardy Nickerson was to me. I'm not there on a daily basis. My role will be limited, but I said I'll play the role he needs me to play to develop his game."
Aside from being fast and tough, David is an extremely smart player, coach Greg Schiano said. That's partly why they entrusted him to wear the green dot helmet communicator as a rookie, charged with making sure the defense got the play calls. David is quiet, but when he speaks, people listen.
"When it is all said and done, everyone looks to Lavonte," linebacker Adam Hayward said. "He runs the show. He's definitely that leader."
David was also the team's leading tackler last year, with his 112 solo stops second in the NFL. His 20 tackles for loss were third in the league and second-most ever by a rookie.
"I think Lavonte played at a Pro Bowl level last year," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a Pro Bowl player himself. "He was just dominating with everything he did. He's going to have an amazing season this year."
Brooks said he could sense how special David was during their lunch. They talked less about X's and O's and more about life in general, the NFL and David's adjustment to Tampa. When Brooks opened himself up for questions, he was impressed by how prepared David was, coming with very detailed questions and taking notes.
Brooks, the president of the Arena Football League's Storm, makes it clear he doesn't want to overstep his boundaries. He is not David's coach but is available as a resource. He gave David several little things to work on — showing his passion, getting involved in community service.
"He expressed enthusiasm to accept the challenge," Brooks said. "I was just humbled that he asked for my advice."
David believes he has room to grow. Last year he was learning the defensive calls. "Now they're second nature," Schiano said. He can be more consistent.
"The sky is the limit for him," said fellow linebacker Mason Foster.
Brooks said he can see similarities between him and David but told the second-year player the comparisons can be compliments and challenges at the same time. "Just have fun with it," Brooks told him. "There's no pressure. The problem is if they were not comparing you to anybody."
McCoy, who once had a similar lunch with Bucs Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp, said he and David have chatted about what they've learned and how they can grow together.
Brooks said David is off to a good start. "I like everything about this kid."