TAMPA — Lavonte David isn't sure where he will display the ball that was his first professional interception.
"Probably in a trophy room or something," he said.
No question, though, he will cling to the memory.
Not only because the interception Sunday against the Broncos came off Future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning — as if that wasn't enough — but because the play reinforced his no-stone-unturned approach to game preparation.
"During practice and film study we saw they really liked the seam routes down the middle to the tight ends," David said Monday at One Buc Place. "So, it starts in practice, working on my technique, and it carried over into the game."
"It makes you work harder," he added, "because you know a lot more good things can happen."
To say David was good against Denver is to undervalue his performance: a game-best 10 tackles, three for loss, a pass defensed and the interception at a time Tampa Bay really needed a stop.
"A great game," coach Greg Schiano said, "very, very high production."
Not a bad way to follow up being named the league's defensive rookie of the month for November.
David's performance would be easy to overlook given the emotional 31-23 loss that crimped the Bucs' playoff push. Still, it was an addition to an impressive body of work.
The second-round pick out of Nebraska is tied for fifth in the league with 108 total tackles and tied for second with 87 solos. He leads the team with 17 tackles for loss. He rarely misses a down and is responsible for relaying defensive calls from sideline.
"I just tried to execute, do my job and have faith that everybody else would do their job and things would take care of themselves," David, 22, said. "I don't want to try to do too much. It's about everybody doing their job. That's what we thrive on around here. I'm just trying to keep up."
To do so, David, 6 feet 1, 233 pounds, said he has embraced the advice of veteran teammates to refine his eating habits: stick with grilled foods and vegetables as opposed to fast foods full of empty calories.
They have him on protein shakes to add lean muscle weight and explained the value of postgame treatment even if you feel okay. That is important for a rookie with four games left in the NFL's 16-game, meat-grinder of a regular season, and who in his busiest year at Nebraska played 14 games.
"It's not like college anymore," fellow linebacker Adam Hayward said. "He has to get into the cold tub for rehab even though he might feel like he's okay because he's young. But it's going to take a toll on your body from OTAs all the way up to the playoffs. You have to get your massages and stretch, so we stay in him for that."
Nobody need remind David how to prepare for games.
"He approaches it like a true professional, which is rare for a rookie to be on point with his preparation," Schiano said. "He truly has bought into the way we do things here."
The biggest payoff Sunday came late in the third quarter. Denver was up 28-10 and threatening at the Tampa Bay 40-yard line with 2:16 remaining. Manning looked for tight end Jacob Tamme on the seam route David instantly recognized.
He glided into the passing lane, intercepted at the 25 and ran 27 yards to the Broncos 48.
"It was awesome," Hayward said. "He was talking about how he wanted one because Mason (Foster) has an interception and I had a (return of a blocked punt) for a touchdown. He was like, 'I feel like I'm left out.' "
Asked if he requested Manning sign the ball, David laughed.
"No," he said, "I didn't."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]