Martin Fennelly Columns
Fennelly: Spotlight finds flashy Bucs rookie Lavonte David
TAMPA - Defensive teammates call him "Flash." "The play begins, it's going and … whoosh … it's 54," Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Gerald McCoy said. It's 54. "You know, I've never had a nickname," Lavonte David said.He has never asked for one, either, or needed one. "It all goes back to attention. I've never liked a lot of attention. That's just the way my family is, relaxed, chill, no negativity. I don't like negativity. I'm always positive, never negative." He leads the Bucs in tackles for negative yardage. For a guy who hates the spotlight, he sure is in the middle of things a lot. The Bucs rookie linebacker is all over games, a blur with a purpose. 54 is there, whoosh . Then impact. "That dude is on another level right now," McCoy said. It's true. David had 14 tackles, 13 of them solo, in last Sunday's win over San Diego, including his team-leading 12th tackle for a loss. The week before, he had 16 tackles, 14 solo, in the victory in Oakland. The second-round pick leads the Bucs with 81 tackles. If you sort it by solo tackles, only one player in the NFL has more of those than rookie David. Try and hide that. "He's very productive, very efficient for any level, veteran, rookie," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "Taking into account that he's a rookie makes it even more special." Bigger Bucs headlines have gone to Doug Martin and also Mark Barron _ the Bucs' first-round picks in the draft _ but the 6-1, 233-pound David is hard to take your eyes off, he's flying everywhere, speed over size, seemingly the new NFL mold for outside linebacker. Say, remember when scouts wondered about Derrick Brooks' size? Let's not get ahead of ourselves. It isn't fair, nine games in, to suggest that David will be another Brooks, anymore than it is to say Martin will be the next Warrick Dunn or Ray Rice or that Barron is the new John Lynch. Just let them be, let them grow. Lavonte David is all over that. "I just want to play the game I love," he said. David and Bucs middle linebacker have traded jobs, in a sense. Last season, it was Foster, then a rookie, who looked and listened for the defensive signals from the sideline, than transmitted them to his teammates. Now that's David's responsibility, and it's no small thing. "It's not easy at all," Foster said. "It's true," David said. "You've got to be learning what you've got to do and also make sure everyone else is doing what they're supposed to do. (Mason) has helped me a lot. And you're a rookie trying to make your mark at the same time." Well, so far, so good _ sometimes scary good. "There's something about our rookies, man, they're all weirdos," McCoy said. "You've got Mark Barron, who's a quiet guy, and Doug Martin, soft spoken, and Lavonte David. But you get them on the field, they're maniacs." "People always say I'm a different guy on the field," David said. "Believe me, I'm not a mean person. But seeing everybody flying around gets me excited." Asked about being an undersized linebacker, David smiled. "Everybody has those big guys. I'm not one of those. But I've been holding my own. I'm sure there are faster guys, those freaks. I'm just a guy who plays football. I don't like to say a whole lot. I'll settle for the stat sheet. I don't even look at the stat sheet, to be honest. I look at the scoreboard." Off the field, he's on "the systems," as he calls them: Madden, NBA2K, college games. Or he might visit his friend and Bucs teammate Anthony Gaitor. They played on championship teams for Miami's Northwestern High. "Sometimes I just drive around (Tampa) to get familiar with the place," Lavonte David said. "I'm not a big guy on going out. I just stay off the scene, be off by myself a lot ... Really, I wouldn't mind if no one ever wrote anything about me at all." We've got a flash for Flash: We're writing about you.