Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Lavonte David picks things up quickly

Lavonte David traded one red jersey for another when the Buccaneers drafted him in the second round out of Nebraska, where he was a two-time All-American for the Cornhuskers.
Lavonte David traded one red jersey for another when the Buccaneers drafted him in the second round out of Nebraska, where he was a two-time All-American for the Cornhuskers.
Published Aug. 7, 2012

TAMPA — Much is expected of Lavonte David. As he walked from the field after practice Monday, the first-year linebacker carried his helmet and shoulder pads in his right hand and those belonging to veteran linebacker Adam Hayward in his left.

Hauling equipment is part of a rookie's obligations, meant to keep him humble amid the hype.

But on the field, David is becoming a dependable fixture at weakside linebacker and was listed as a starter when the depth chart was released on Monday. Even before he became a valet for Hayward, the second-round pick from Nebraska knew he'd have his hands full.

"The pressure to play right away has been on me ever since I went to college," David said. "When you play football and you love the game so much, you want that pressure to be on you. You want to be able to make that play, but it's a team game, and it takes everybody playing together."

At 6 feet 1, 233 pounds, David bears a physical resemblance to Bucs great Derrick Brooks, the Tampa Bay Storm president who attended practice Monday. Though David plays the same position, the comparisons end there.

When Brooks entered the league as a first-round pick in 1995, he had a Pro Bowl middle linebacker in Hardy Nickerson to mentor him. The Bucs are likely to start Mason Foster, who struggled as a rookie last season, alongside David.

"When you first look at them, you appreciate the athleticism," Brooks said Monday of the Bucs' young linebackers. "They do have a lot of the characteristics that we had when we were young players."

When coach Tony Dungy arrived in 1996 and installed a new defense, the Bucs started 0-5. But as those young players became more familiar with the system, the Bucs won five of their final eight to finish 6-10.

Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan has thrown the new playbook at David. He also has given him more repetitions than most defenders. In addition to his duties in the base defense, David has gotten looks at middle linebacker in nickel passing situations with the second unit.

"He's doing good," Sheridan said. "Like all the rookies, at some point in camp, it starts to mount up mentally. But he's plowing through it. The nice thing is he's getting a ton of reps with the ones (starters) and the twos, so he's getting coached off film because he's in there a lot. I'm sure guys wish they were getting the kind of reps we're affording him.

"What he brings is he's real instinctive, so even if he technically screws up, he's got great recovery."

David's playmaking ability helped Miami Northwestern High to state titles in 2006 and '07 but he was not heavily recruited and wound up at Fort Scott (Kan.) Junior College. After transferring to Nebraska in 2010, David set a school record with 152 tackles and became a two-time All-American.

David credits his Fort Scott teammate, offensive lineman Jamarcus Hardrick, for helping secure him a scholarship to Nebraska, having insisted on a package deal. Hardrick was reunited with David after signing with the Bucs as an undrafted free agent.

"When my name gets called, I've got to step in right away, especially at this level," David said.

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"…Just the speed of the game is so great, you've got to be on point with everything. You've got to be right with your run fits, because backs in this league, they hit it downhill fast. You've got to be in the right place at the right time and handle your responsibility."

Once the Bucs begin preparing for the regular season, David will have less to remember because the game plan will be scaled to fit the opponent.

"So far, so good. Lavonte has been able to pick everything up," coach Greg Schiano said.

Including an extra helmet and shoulder pads.