LINCOLN — Much like Lavonte David had done two years before at Nebraska, the linebacker rushed onto the scene with Tampa Bay and showed he not only could understand just about anything but carry it to the football field.
It took David from No. 2 on the Buccaneers’ depth chart at the outset of training camp to a starting job at weakside linebacker last Sunday against Carolina.
But there was more.
Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan informed David the night before the season opener that he also would be wearing the helmet transmitter and making the defensive calls against the Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton.
“He just came up and told me what the deal was,” David said. “Obviously they trust me if they give me that responsibility. I’ve just got to man up to it.
“I had a feeling it was coming and I just had to prepare myself for it. And everything worked out fine.”
The former Husker had a successful NFL debut in Tampa Bay’s 16-10 win. David was credited with a team-high six tackles (four unassisted) as the Bucs allowed only 10 of Carolina’s 301 total yards to come on the ground.
And by also handling the added duties, David gained a measure of respect from his new teammates.
“That’s not easy to do, especially in your first game in the NFL,” defensive tackle Gerald McCoy told the Tampa Tribune. “But he wasn’t shook at all. He never looked nervous. Now I see why we drafted him.”
David apparently hasn’t broken stride since his two seasons at Nebraska, which included him setting the single-season tackle record as a junior and being named Big Ten linebacker of the year as a senior.
Tampa Bay used its second-round draft pick on the linebacker, who some questioned because of his size (6-foot-1, 233 pounds). But the Miami native made a good first impression and kept chipping away.
“Obviously you have to work your way up and earn everything you get,” David said. “Everyone has work to do, but you just have to stay consistent. I thought I had an OK camp, but obviously you can always do better.
“I think I’ve just had the support of my teammates and coaches and everybody pushing me. I just had to stay in my playbook, and when my number got called, I just had to respond.”
David was one of three rookies playing prominent roles as Tampa Bay stopped a 10-game skid. Mark Barron (Alabama) had three tackles at safety and laid a huge hit on receiver Steve Smith. Doug Martin (Boise State) rushed for 95 yards on 24 carries.
Some fresh blood might have helped — Barron and Martin were first-round picks — but David said the contributions were across the board in Greg Schiano’s first game as Bucs coach.
“It was all a team effort,” he said. “We just did what we had to do that week.”
Tampa Bay gets no break, facing the Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Sunday, but David said some of his comfort with what he’s seeing goes back to the preparation he got with former NFL assistant Bo Pelini at Nebraska.
“Coach Bo sat me down and we talked a little bit,” David said, “and he said to stay focused and be patient, and said some of the stuff we ran at Nebraska are things teams were running in the NFL.”
The best advice he got from others was to play his game, stay within the plan and never get too high or too low — things the even-keeled David already was pretty good at.
“I think that’s just part of my personality,” he said. “You just got to do what got you here.”
David started making the calls a little louder and with more authority as the game went on against Carolina, at the request of his defensive teammates. But the noise was great and David said the Bucs fed off the atmosphere at Raymond James Stadium.
Was there a moment where David realized that he had arrived in the NFL? One play that will stick in his mind for days, months or years to come?
“Just the win,” David said. “The win stuck out most. And now it’s just time to move on to the next week.”
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