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Is linebacker Lavonte David’s heir apparent already with Bucs?

The Pro Bowler is playing on a one-year deal at age 33. Could K.J. Britt or SirVocea Dennis be his long-term replacement?
 
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David (54) celebrates after he sacks Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff during a game in October at Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David (54) celebrates after he sacks Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff during a game in October at Raymond James Stadium. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Nov. 25, 2023|Updated Nov. 25, 2023

TAMPA — For as long as Lavonte David has been roaming the middle of the Bucs defense — 12 seasons and counting — his backups have gone as unnoticed as Taylor Swift’s roadies.

At 33, David is again leading Tampa Bay with 90 tackles — 28 more than fellow inside linebacker Devin White — while racking up three sacks and a whopping 14 tackles for loss.

In last week’s 27-14 loss to the 49ers, David passed Ronde Barber and moved into second on the Bucs’ all-time tackles list with his sack of Brock Purdy on the opening series.

Unfortunately, David suffered a groin injury that will force him to miss at least Sunday’s game at Indianapolis and maybe more. White, who has a foot injury, practiced Friday and will be a game-time decision.

Bucs linebacker Lavonte David (54) has Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) in his sights during a game in September in Tampa.
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David (54) has Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) in his sights during a game in September in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

That means the Bucs will turn to rookie SirVocea Dennis and third-year pro K.J. Britt.

David is year-to-year after signing a contract for 2023 worth $4.5 million. His health status is week-to-week.

But at some point, the Bucs will have to replace David. When they do, Dennis knows there will be some very big cleats to fill.

“I would say so,” Dennis said. “He is definitely one of the top linebackers of this program of all time. Just being able to pick his brain, being able to watch him, see him go through the motions and play, like, real good football is a real big help to me. Because I wouldn’t say it’s easy to watch and learn, but when you see him do it the correct way all the time, it’s really easy to watch and learn.”

Neither Dennis, who thrives in pass coverage, nor Britt, may be the heir apparent. That remains to be seen.

Both had good moments when they replaced David in the second half last week vs. San Francisco.

Dennis battled a hamstring injury that forced him to miss time during the preseason and it returned, forcing him to miss games in Weeks 2-4. Dennis said he used the time to narrow a pretty large learning curve.

Bucs linebacker SirVocea Dennis answers questions during a news conference in August at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa.
Bucs linebacker SirVocea Dennis answers questions during a news conference in August at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

“(Coming) from college, you think you know everything, you think you’ve seen it all,” he said “Then you get to this level here, and it’s like, I have a lot to learn.

“I credit that to the guys in the room. Coaches, players, and then also (head coach Todd) Bowles as well. They all know a lot of football. So, just picking everyone’s brain and just being able to see what they see is huge.”

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Geno Hayes, whose nephew, Josh, is a rookie defensive back for the Bucs, was Brooks’ immediate replacement before David arrived in 2012.

“Everybody, it’s next man up, K.J. Britt, ‘Voss’ (SirVocea Dennis),” co-defensive coordinator Larry Foote said. “This time of the year, I don’t look at anybody as rookies. If we put you in there, we expect you to play and perform at a high level.”

Mayfield wants rule change

The NFL outlawed the horse-collar tackle, but apparently it still is legal when a quarterback is in the pocket.

Mayfield found out the hard way when 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa pulled him down using that technique when Mayfield’s pass from the San Francisco 9-yard line was intercepted on the Bucs’ next-to-last drive.

“If the guy lands on my legs when it happens, it’s just as bad as a horse collar in the open field,” Mayfield said. “It’s one of those rules that is in the rule book, but I don’t know.”

Bucs offensive coordinator Dave Canales agreed. “There’s a lot of stuff that I think Baker is not getting called right now,” Canales said. “I’d love for him to get the same protections that a lot of other quarterbacks do.”

Mauch has his best game

Among the things general manager Jason Licht has excelled at is drafting offensive linemen, preferably from smaller schools.

Rookie guard Cody Mauch, a second-round pick from North Dakota State, appears to be that next dude. He had his best game last week at San Francisco, Canales said, pushing around former first-round pick Arik Armstead.

“On Rachaad (White)’s touchdown run, he’s got Arik Armstead 3 yards in the end zone. If that doesn’t get you guys excited, I don’t know what will,” Canales said. “If this guy starts coming along ...

Mauch wasn’t the only Bucs lineman to leave a favorable impression on Canales in the game.

“(Aaron) Stinnie had a couple flat-back blocks,” he said. “It was a physical day for us. I would have loved to see what would have happened early on if we would have gotten a few more first downs instead of having that short amount of plays (23) at the half.”

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