The Buccaneers’ linebacker core has been long overlooked. With starters in Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, and Daryl Smith, is the 2016 season the year they finally get the recognition they deserve?
The past few seasons in the Buccaneers’ defense, their linebackers have not received the attention they deserved. Previous starters in “tackling-success” Danny Lansanah, Lavonte David, and whatever turnstile middle linebacker such as Mason Foster or Dane Fletcher, have been neglected to receive any national credit what so ever.
Although the middle linebacker spot has not seen any solid play before the arrival of Kwon Alexander for quite some time, it has had some mediocre players who filled the role just fine. Lansanah, who is now not on the roster, definitely flashed playmaking ability and played great in what was asked of him. David, who is the best of the bunch, has been consistently overseen in Tampa, and also the national spotlight.
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So with a new defensive coordinator and new scheme under Mike Smith, will the Bucs’ linebackers finally be recognized and considered a strength? That is yet to be seen, but there is a good feeling with the names in the room, it can be.
To start off, let’s focus on our playmaker, Lavonte David. Yes, David is seen as star in Tampa, for the most part, but he still does not get the spotlight he deserves. A man who is one of the consistent leading tacklers in NFL is cursed with being overlooked by fans/critics because of other outside linebackers in the league.
The man should be a consistent Pro Bowler, but because of being lumped into a category with pass-rushing outside linebackers, he is not considered one of the best. There is no better outside linebacker in both coverage and run stopping ability, plain and simple. Yes, the Bucs did cash him in this past season, but did he deserve more? I think so. If there is any player on this roster who is the best at his position in the NFL, its Lavonte. His elite and consistent play is something that makes him special.
The Bucs had a home-run of a draft in 2015 and brought in two quarterbacks: one on offense and one on defense. Kwon Alexander, the Bucs’ starting middle linebacker, proved to the doubters last season that he should’ve been taken in the much higher in the draft. Jason Licht was ecstatic to draft this freakish player in the fourth round when he had a first round grade on him.
Alexander was able to come into camp and outplay the newly signed Bruce Carter for the starting spot, and he never turned back. Although he dealt with some tackling issues, he was able to really show that playmaking ability that the Bucs’ have lacked from that position in previous seasons. Don’t be surprised if Kwon’s jump to stardom continues in the 2016 season. This man is the real deal.
Daryl Smith, the wily 34-year-old veteran was brought in this off-season to replace Lansanah and bring some knowledge of coach Smith’s defense with him. Although he is gone from his All-Pro days in Jacksonville (where he played under Mike Smith), he continues to play at a high level even at his age. He, like Lavonte, is an elite tackler.
Smith has been able to amass over 120 combined tackles throughout the past three seasons, which is something that will help build on the dominant run defense the Bucs’ always seem to have. Smith’s knowledge of the defensive scheme will help him make the plays that the Bucs’ need him to make.
What about the depth? Well according to the 53 man roster prediction, the belief is that Bucs will have what they need. With the two rookies in Devante Bond and Luke Rhodes, the Bucs have some quality players. Bond was drafted to learn under Smith, and eventually replace him once the time has come. The sixth round draft pick is known to make plays in the backfield, and with the correct guidance, he could form into a playmaker.
Luke Rhodes, a player covered in another prior article on the Pewter Plank, is someone who I personally believe can defy the odds. This small school, undrafted linebacker for the Bucs has already been taking second team reps. His awareness in coverage is stellar, and there should be no worries if his number is called upon.
Jeremiah George is another linebacker predicted to make the roster. In very limited playing time, he was able to show glimpses of what a quality backup needs.
Therefore the question is, is the Bucs’ linebacking corp a weakness or a strength? My answer, strength. In fact, I believe it to be the best group on the roster. All three starters for the 2016 season have a true x-factor to them. If Alexander is able to take the next step, it could be arguably one of the best in the league.
Coach Smith will form his scheme to fit his players (Isn’t it nice to have Lovie gone?), which leaves them in the position they need to exceed. According to Lavonte they can be the “best defense ever”, and the strength of the linebacking core will propel them towards that.