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“You don’t look a day over 25!”
The quote above is one that is normally used on insecure women looking to hear reassurance that their youthful looks are not fading away. However, in this case, it can also be used to accurately describe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacking core.
24.6 is the average age of the entire core with Adam Hayward being the old man in the group at age 29. Starters Dekoda Watson, Mason Foster and Lavonte David are 25, 24 and 23 respectively — Foster and David are also the only linebackers with full-time starter experience.
Normally, this would cause fans to raise an eyebrow, or at least expected to see a veteran brought in to mentor these young players. But as free agency, the draft and training camp have come and gone, the roster remains the same, and it might not be as bad as you think.
Lavonte David (WLB):
In his rookie year, Lavonte David recorded 112 solo tackles (139 total), 2 sacks and 1 interception. Since 2000, there has only been one player, Kendrell Bell, who has recorded more tackles-for-loss in his rookie season than David did last year with 20. On top of that, David was third in the entire NFL last season with 20 tackles-for-loss; the only two players in front of him: Von Miller and J.J. Watt. The tackle-for-loss statistic is an observable tool used to evaluate much more than just the tackle itself. Executing it on a consistent basis takes more than athletic ability; you have to be proactively evaluating each player on the offense. Linebackers have to read the offense as a whole and know where a play is going before it even begins. As a testament to this, David has not only been watching film on his position, but he has been watching film on what to do at each linebacker position; he doesn’t just want to have his linebacker position mastered, he wants to have every linebacker position mastered.
As I get in, things start to come quicker, I’m knowing my assignment and I’m starting to learn everyone else’s assignment around me and it’s making me better.
– Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker, Lavonte David
It’s early, but David’s production brought up some comparisons to another certain Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker of old, Derrick Brooks. Brooks recorded 78 tackles and 1 sack as a rookie, but the more important comparison isn’t in the stat book, it’s in the command of the defense from the same exact position.
David is a Pro Bowl sleeper, and even if he doesn’t get voted to the honor, I doubt we see a fall in his production.
Mason Foster (MLB):
Foster was drafted in 2011 to anchor the middle of Tampa’s defense for years to come. His production is there with 85 tackles in his rookie year and 105 tackles in 2012, but his grasp as a defensive commander has not only slipped out of his hands, but has firmly been placed in the hands of Lavonte David.
It’s uncharacteristic to see a linebacker other than the MLB call the defensive plays/audibles, but after a year and a half, those duties are no longer expected of Foster. Maybe this is what he needs. David has proven he can handle the responsibilities, so Schiano seems to be letting Foster’s talents loose.
After spending a year with each other, I think we understand where he’s (David) gonna take his shot, where I’m gonna take my shot and it helps us make more plays.
– Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker, Mason Foster
Dekoda Watson (SLB):
During his three years in Tampa, the seventh round pick Dekoda Watson has recorded 64 tackles and has appeared in all but three games. If he is indeed the starter, Week 1 will be the 4th time in Watson’s career that he will start.
The opportunity is definitely there, I just gotta make the most of it and make sure that I be on top of my game, and show them that they’re able to trust me and be able to contribute to the team.
– Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker, Dekoda Watson.
Jonathan Casillas (SLB):
Casillas was a free agent signing this season brought in to bring competition and depth to Tampa’s young linebacker core. In his previous three seasons with New Orleans, Casillas recorded 94 tackles at the linebacker position as well as on special teams. Right now he’s learning Schiano’s system, but there’s nothing to say he couldn’t be the starter come Week 1.
I’m just trying to find my way on the defense and learn my job, and learn also the other positions at linebacker, because they’re interchangeable. As long as I’m doing that I think I’m making progress in the right direction. If I become a starter, so be it, but I’m going to do anything the team asks me to do.
– Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker, Jonathan Casillas