NFL Nation: Lavonte David

Tampa Bay Buccaneers season report card

December, 31, 2014
12/31/14
11:00
AM ET
video » AFC: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into the 2014 season talking optimistically about a fast turnaround under new coach Lovie Smith. The Bucs were aggressive in free agency, and the company line was the team didn't want to ask fans to be patient any longer.

In reality, the patience of the fans was put to a strong test during a 2-14 season.

Smith's system didn't take hold right away and defeats piled up. Blowout losses to Atlanta and Baltimore were ugly, and there were painful, close losses along the way. The defense showed signs of improvement as the season went on, but this team didn't do much to build optimism for the future. Major personnel moves will have to come in the offseason.

Team MVP: Gerald McCoy. The defensive tackle was a constant on a team that didn't have much consistency. He finished with 8.5 sacks in a season cut short by a knee injury. McCoy was strong against the run and pass, and he also provided strong leadership. The team rewarded him with a big contract extension at midseason. That assures the team has at least one building block in place for the long term. The Bucs could use a bunch of other pieces as solid as McCoy.

Best moment: This season didn't have many highlights, but the Week 4 victory at Pittsburgh definitely was the shining moment. It came with second-year pro Mike Glennon filling in for an injured Josh McCown at quarterback and provided early-season hope. It showed Smith's system could work. The Bucs weren't able to build anything positive off the Pittsburgh win, but it showed they could be competitive on the road against a good team.

Worst moment: You could go in any number of directions on this one, but I think there's a hands-down winner. That was the Nov. 30 home game against Cincinnati. The Bucs seemed to do everything they needed to get a win. They drove the ball into field-goal range in the closing seconds for what seemed like a certain victory. But the play was called back because the Bucs were penalized for having 12 men in the huddle. They wound up losing 14-13.

2015 outlook: The good news is things probably can't get worse. The honeymoon is over for Smith, who needs to show positive results quickly. Despite the losing, Smith talked repeatedly about how his team was improving. You could see that in small portions, particularly on the defense. But the improvement needs to become much more obvious in Smith's second season. His team has the No. 1 overall draft pick and is likely to be active in free agency, and the Bucs need to start winning games or else Smith will end up on the hot seat.
TAMPA, Fla. – Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith frequently calls Lavonte David the best outside linebacker in the NFL.

So why was David once again overlooked when the Pro Bowl selections were announced Tuesday night?

David
It’s simple. It also is unfair and shows a flaw in how the Pro Bowl rosters are structured.

The fact is that David doesn’t have the kind of statistics as his competition. He has one sack and no interceptions. His 141 tackles are an impressive number, but that’s not what Pro Bowl voters are looking for.

They’re looking for sacks, and the proof is in who made the roster. It’s filled with outside linebackers that play in 3-4 schemes. A huge part of their job is to rush the passer. They’re bound to put up numbers.

David plays in a 4-3 scheme in which he rarely gets an opportunity to rush the passer. His job is to go from sideline to sideline and make tackles. He does that as well as any 4-3 linebacker in the game.

But David, a third alternate for the Pro Bowl, might continue to get overlooked because of the system he plays in. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Wednesday that the system shouldn’t limit David’s Pro Bowl chances.

“I think for sure Lavonte will be able to make enough plays in this defense," Frazier said. “You don’t have to go any further than Derrick Brooks to take a look at that. It’s been done before. He will continue to improve in this system and get better and we look forward to congratulating him on his first Pro Bowl appearance eventually. He’ll make enough plays in this system to go to the Pro Bowl."

But the odds are stacked against David as long as the current system is in place for filling Pro Bowl rosters. Smith has said it’s an injustice that outside linebackers from 4-3 schemes have to compete against players from 3-4 schemes and he’s right.

The NFL needs to make another category for outside linebackers who play in a 4-3 scheme. Until that happens, David and some other very good linebackers will continue to be overlooked.
DETROIT -- Seen and heard in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room after their 34-17 loss to the Detroit Lions.

David
Linebacker Lavonte David left the game in the second half and was evaluated for a possible concussion. Coach Lovie Smith said after the game that he didn’t have any update on David. The Bucs already were thin at linebacker with Mason Foster sitting out. Reserve linebacker Brandon Magee also got banged up and had to leave the game. If David is going to miss some time, the Bucs might have to sign another linebacker.

Quarterback Josh McCown was visibly limping in the locker room and his back had wrapping on it. McCown took a beating from the Lions. He was sacked six times and hit on a bunch of other plays. Right tackle Demar Dotson didn't sugarcoat things. Dotson said the offensive line isn't playing well at all.

Although he had two touchdown catches, rookie receiver Mike Evans said he played his worst game. Evans said his blocking wasn't up to par and he didn’t do a good enough job getting open. He finished with four catches for 45 yards and had a pass go off his hands that was intercepted. He said he thought he was interfered with on that play.
TAMPA, Fla. -- As the losses continue to pile up, it’s fair to wonder if Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith could follow the path of Rob Chudzinski and Mike Mularkey.

Chudzinski lasted only one season in Cleveland and Mularkey was ousted after one year in Jacksonville. Could Smith, whose team is 2-10, face the same fate?

Smith
Nothing is out of the question, but I think Smith is safe. Smith was ownership’s hand-picked coach to follow Greg Schiano and was given a five-year contract.

Ownership obviously can’t be delighted with the early results. But I think they are smart enough to look at the big picture, due largely to trial and error in the past. Since firing Jon Gruden after the 2008 season, the Bucs have gone through constant change.

From Raheem Morris to Schiano and now to Smith, the Bucs have kept overhauling their roster but never gave it a chance to stabilize. The Bucs have some good individual talent (Gerald McCoy, Mike Evans and Lavonte David to name a few) to build around. Some complementary players are needed, and that’s what the upcoming offseason is for.

But what the Bucs need more than anything right now is continuity. Smith isn’t like Morris or Schiano, who were unproven in the NFL. Smith won in Chicago, and history is the best indicator of what is to come. Smith needs another offseason to get the roster to where he needs it to be.

Smith hasn’t panicked this season. He’s stayed the course and stuck with his philosophies. I don’t anticipate that changing. Smith is a creature of habit.

And that’s a good thing. The last thing the Bucs need right now is another dramatic change. There’s no question some personnel moves need to be made, but the Bucs need stability.

They need to stick with Smith and let him finish what he has started.

Bucs without four injured starters

November, 30, 2014
11/30/14
11:50
AM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without four starters for Sunday's game with Cincinnati.

All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David, who said Friday he was confident he would play despite a hamstring injury, headlines a list of significant inactives. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith (illness), tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back) and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (hamstring) also are inactive. The other inactives for the Bucs are cornerback Crezdon Butler, tight end Brandon Myers and tight end Luke Stocker.

That means the Bucs are without any of the tight ends they’ve been going with all season. The team promoted Cameron Brate and signed D.J. Williams and those two will share the duties at tight end and fullback.

With David out, the Bucs are expected to shift Danny Lansanah to the weak side and start Orie Lemon on the strong side. Garrett Gilkey is expected to start in Dietrich-Smith’s place and Akeem Spence is expected to take McDonald’s place.

Lavonte David out for Buccaneers

November, 23, 2014
11/23/14
11:10
AM ET
CHICAGO -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David against the Bears on Sunday.

David has a hamstring injury and didn’t practice Thursday or Friday.

It’s likely that Brandon Magee or Orie Lemon will start in David’s place. Running back Doug Martin and cornerback Alterraun Verner were listed as questionable but are expected to play.

Four is a crowd in Bucs' backfield

November, 21, 2014
11/21/14
2:01
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- For the first time this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should have a full stable of healthy running backs when they play the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Doug Martin, who has missed the past three games with an ankle injury, appears to be on schedule to make his return.

"Doug is back this week and that’s a good thing," coach Lovie Smith said Friday. “He looked pretty good in practice."

Martin
But Martin’s return means the Bucs face a tough decision on which running backs to activate Sunday.

"Four guys available," Smith said. "It’s pretty hard to dress four running backs. But we like having those decisions. It’s tough in a way, but in a way it’s really not. That’s why practice is so important, and we knew that we should have everybody back this week, so we’ve been paying close attention. We have a plan we feel comfortable with."

In addition to Martin, the Bucs have Bobby Rainey, Mike James and Charles Sims. Rainey has been starting in Martin’s place and he’s a regular on special teams, so he seems likely to be active. Sims has led the team in carries in each of the past two games, and James has carved out a niche as the short-yardage rusher.

Martin also missed two games earlier in the season. With Martin in and out of the lineup and Sims missing the first eight games with an ankle injury, nobody has stepped up and given the Bucs anything close to a feature back. But Smith said that situation will sort itself out.

"To me right now, if you continue to play guys, they’ll tell you all that," Smith said. "Bobby has had his moment. Mike James has kind of moved into his role. Yeah, we would like to see one of our running backs rush for about 200 yards and become the bell cow."

In injury news, linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring) missed his second straight day of practice. Smith said David’s status for Sunday will be a game-time decision.
» AFC: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South | Preseason picks

Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas revises his prediction at the midway point of the season:

Preseason prediction: 8-8

Revised prediction: 4-12

Why the Buccaneers will finish worse: I admit I bought into the hype the Bucs were selling about winning right away because they didn't believe they could ask their fans to be patient much longer. They were aggressive in free agency, signing defensive end Michael Johnson, left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith and trading for guard Logan Mankins. With players like defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David already in place, the roster looked good -- on paper -- heading into the season. But this team has struggled in every way imaginable.

The Bucs aren't going to get to .500 or even close. They rank 31st in the league in overall offense and defense, and they're not doing anything particularly well. They have lost some close games and been routed twice. Injuries to quarterback Josh McCown, running back Doug Martin, middle linebacker Mason Foster and safety Dashon Goldson have played a role, and the loss of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford to a leave of absence after a preseason heart procedure hasn't helped. But this team still has underachieved, and some of those moves made in free agency aren't looking very good.

Coach Lovie Smith keeps saying his team is improving, but that’s happening in very small increments. The Bucs need major improvement before they can win.

They will win a few games and show a little progress down the stretch. But the kind of improvement this team needs is the type that can come only with another offseason to strengthen the roster.

Midseason report: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

November, 5, 2014
11/05/14
11:00
AM ET

» AFC Report: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South | HOME

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Lovie Smith era has started about as poorly as possible. Smith and general manager Jason Licht came in saying they were in a "win-now" mode because they didn't feel it was fair to ask Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans to be patient. They were aggressive in free agency, but none of those signings has made a major impact so far. Injuries have played a part in the slow start, but they're not a valid excuse for what has happened. This team has struggled in every area, and there haven't been many signs that things are going to improve.

Midseason MVP: Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has been a bright spot on a team that hasn't had many. Despite drawing constant double-teams and playing part of the time with a broken hand, McCoy has been a disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line. He has played the run very well and has been the most consistent pass-rusher the Bucs have. That's why the Bucs recently signed McCoy to a seven-year, $98 million contract extension.

Biggest disappointment: The defense. This unit was supposed to be a strength under Smith, who is supposed to be a defensive guru, with McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David forming the nucleus. McCoy and David have done their parts, but the rest of the defense has been a disaster. The Bucs are ranked last in overall defense, and a lot of people are wondering whether Smith's Tampa 2 scheme is outdated. Defensive end Michael Johnson, who was brought in to bolster the pass rush, hasn't been a factor.

Best moment: There's only one choice here, and that's the Sept. 28 win against Pittsburgh. It came on the road and was easily Tampa Bay's best overall performance of the season. Quarterback Mike Glennon was making his first start of the season, and he threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns. The Bucs trailed late in the game, but the defense came up with a huge stop. The offense got the ball back with 40 seconds left, and Glennon led the drive to a game-winning touchdown.

Worst moment: You can take your pick of several, and the blowout loss to Atlanta is a strong candidate. But I'm going with the 48-17 loss to Baltimore. That was the worst because it came at home after a week in which the coaches and players were promising an improved performance. Instead, the Bucs turned in their worst performance of the season. They fell behind quickly and trailed 38-0 at halftime.

Key to the second half: Playoff hopes disappeared a long time ago, but the second half of this season is important on several levels. Although it would be unusual to fire a coach (especially one on a five-year contract) after only one season, it's not unprecedented. Smith needs a few wins and some signs of improvement to fully secure his job. This season still can turn out to be a success if the Bucs finish strong and build some momentum heading into next season.

Don't expect any fine offensive displays Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

That's because the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both are struggling on offense. The Vikings (2-5) and Bucs (1-5) are starting young quarterbacks and ranked near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories.

The Vikings, led by rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, rank No. 29 in overall offense and are last in passing offense. The Bucs have been starting second-year pro Mike Glennon and they're ranked No. 30 in overall offense.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas preview the matchup:

Yasinskas: Ben, I know the numbers aren't pretty. But has Bridgewater been showing any signs of progress?

Goessling: He has shown some. He hit 12 of his 15 throws after a pair of interceptions in Buffalo on Sunday, and I thought he did a better job of trusting himself to find his receivers downfield than he has in recent weeks. He has looked great at times, especially in the Vikings' win over Atlanta last month, but he's still figuring a lot of things out.

He needs to be better about throwing on target, and he has fallen victim to the same problems that plague many rookies, when he has held the ball a little too long or thrown late because he didn't make up his mind soon enough. But it's important to remember Bridgewater doesn't have Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and an offensive line that can protect him. The Vikings have given up 27 sacks this season, which is the second-most in the league, and they've forced Bridgewater to run for his life on a number of other occasions.

Speaking of quarterbacks, will Glennon remain the starter or will Josh McCown get the job back now that he's getting healthy?

Yasinskas: Coach Lovie Smith has been coy about his plans. My best guess is Glennon will get at least one more start because McCown returned to practice only this week and was out for more than a month. I think Glennon has played well enough to be the full-time starter, but I'm not sure Smith sees it that way. McCown was Smith's hand-picked quarterback and the two have history together from their Chicago days. Smith's history has shown he prefers to go with veterans. Back in Chicago, he once benched Kyle Orton, who was playing well, as soon as Rex Grossman got healthy. It wouldn't surprise me if Smith goes back to McCown.

You mentioned Minnesota's offensive line. I know it has been banged up. Will it be any healthier this week, and can it at least give Bridgewater some protection against a Tampa Bay pass rush that hasn't been good?

Goessling: It's hard to say at this point if it will be healthier. Guard Vladimir Ducasse is optimistic about his chances to play after injuring his knee on Sunday, but John Sullivan is still going through the concussion protocol, and his loss would be a big one. He's the Vikings' most reliable blocker, and does plenty to help Bridgewater set protections.

The biggest problem, though, has been left tackle Matt Kalil, who got beat again several times on Sunday and has struggled in pass protection all season. Kalil was the No. 4 pick in the draft in 2012 and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but got hurt last year and hasn't looked like the same guy. The Vikings were able to protect Bridgewater effectively against Atlanta, another team with an underwhelming pass rush, so I'd expect they'll fare better this week than they have against Detroit and Buffalo.

Shifting to the defensive side of the ball, how has the Vikings' old coach, Leslie Frazier, fared as the coordinator? The Bucs have obviously been shredded on defense; how much of that do you think is Frazier and Smith's old Cover 2 scheme and how much is personnel?

Yaskinsas: Tampa Bay ranks last in total defense and also is No. 32 in pass defense. That's shocking since Smith and Frazier are supposed to be defensive gurus. I think this team has good defensive personnel, especially with tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. But the pass rush has been non-existent, and that has taken a toll on the secondary. The main problem might be Smith's stubbornness. He's sticking with the Tampa 2 scheme even though it looks like it might be outdated. I'm not saying he should totally ditch the Tampa 2, but it might be wise -- and productive -- to mix in some man coverage at times.

The Vikings lost a last-minute game against Buffalo last week. That reminded me that the Vikings lost a lot of games in the final minutes last season. Is there some sort of flaw there or is this just a young team that needs to learn how to win?

Goessling: They believe it's the latter. The approach the Vikings took on the final drive on Sunday didn't look like what they did last year, when they sat back in coverage on a lot of those final drives. They were aggressive with their fronts, blitzing Orton four times on the drive and sacking him twice. But there were breakdowns that probably can be traced to inexperience. Josh Robinson needed to reroute Sammy Watkins when he pressed him on third-and-12, Xavier Rhodes misplayed Watkins' game-winning touchdown, and first-year coach Mike Zimmer said he probably should have called a timeout before a fourth-and-20 play -- like Frazier did in a couple games last season -- to get the defense settled. The Vikings gave up a first down there after Chad Greenway was trying to get Captain Munnerlyn in the right spot in a no-huddle situation. Greenway had his head turned at the snap and didn't get deep enough in coverage to keep Orton from hitting Scott Chandler for a first down.

The Vikings are young in the secondary, especially, and I think that showed up Sunday, but I continue to see progress in what they're doing. They have Pro Bowl-caliber players in Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith, and Rhodes has continued to improve as a corner. It'll take another year of player acquisitions, but they're headed in the right direction.

To wrap this up, why has the Buccaneers' ground game struggled so much? It might be a function of playing from behind as much as they have, but it seems like they've struggled to run the ball in closer games, too. What do you think the problem has been there?

Yasinskas: It's true they have had to abandon the running game at times because they've fallen so far behind. But even at the start of games, they've struggled to run the ball. That's puzzling because they have a rebuilt offensive line and running back Doug Martin is healthy after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury. I put the majority of the blame on the offensive line. But I also put some blame on Martin. He is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. His backup, Bobby Rainey, is averaging 4.9 yards a carry. Martin needs to make more out of his opportunities.

W2W4: Buccaneers at Saints

October, 4, 2014
10/04/14
12:02
PM ET
Five things to watch in Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints:

Mike Glennon: The second-year quarterback will make his second straight start. He is coming off an impressive game-winning drive in Pittsburgh. Glennon had some success with the deep ball, something the Bucs weren’t getting much of with Josh McCown in the first three games. The Bucs don’t want Glennon in a shootout with Drew Brees, but they will try to take advantage of his big arm and take some shots down the field.

Martin
The running game: The best way to avoid the shootout with Brees is to have a strong running game. The Bucs haven’t run the ball very well so far. But Doug Martin is healthy after missing two games with a knee injury. The Bucs are likely to try to establish Martin early.

The pass rush: The defensive front four showed some signs of life in last week’s win against Pittsburgh. The Bucs recorded five sacks against the Steelers. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Michael Johnson both are playing through injuries, but have been productive. Brees isn’t an easy quarterback to sack because he gets rid of the ball quickly. But the Bucs need to put some pressure on Brees and knock him off his favorite launching spots.

The secondary: The Bucs have a lot invested in their secondary. But the defensive backfield has yet to produce much in the way of results. That needs to change against the Saints. The Bucs have been credited with only five passes defended. The secondary needs to start getting its hands on some footballs.

Lavonte David: The linebacker has played well, but he hasn’t made any of the big plays he made last season. David is the Bucs’ best player after McCoy, and he needs a big game for this defense to slow Brees. David has to make a play or two as pass defender or a rusher.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Throughout his career in Tampa Bay, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has tried to follow in the footsteps of Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp.

McCoy was at it again last week. Through various television shows, McCoy is familiar with the story of the 1996 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their turning point. Sapp and Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks love to tell the story.

McCoy
McCoy
It goes something like this: The Bucs were in their first season under coach Tony Dungy. They were off to a horrible start and were a laughingstock. They flew out to San Diego as a heavy underdog to the Chargers. As Brooks and Sapp watched television that morning, the announcers were making fun of the Bucs.

On the spot, Sapp and Brooks made a pledge to each other that the laughing had to stop. They went out and beat the Chargers that day. They finished the season strong and made the playoffs the following year.

McCoy used that story last week to get his teammates motivated for their game at Pittsburgh. The tactic worked as the Bucs pulled off an upset for their first win of the season.

"I talked to (linebacker) Lavonte (David) and a couple of guys and told them that story and I told them about Sapp and Brooks and the decision they made that day," McCoy said. "I told them that has to be us. Nobody's thinking we can win. This is the Terrible Towel, the historic Pittsburgh Steelers and no one is expecting us to win. Let's go out there and change that. People think we're the worst team in the NFL, that's awesome. Keep thinking that."

Like the 1996 team, the Bucs were at a low point before the Pittsburgh game. They were coming off a 56-14 loss to Atlanta. They were 0-3 under first-year coach Lovie Smith. McCoy said the Atlanta game fired up the Bucs.

"It definitely motivated us," McCoy said. "When we got those extra days off, we put it behind us. Besides being asked about it, nobody really brought it up. It was like 'We're 0-3. We were here last year. We can't keep allowing this to happen.' But it definitely was an eye opener. We were already 0-2 and then we went and allowed this to happen. We can't keep this going."

It remains to be seen if the Pittsburgh game really was a turning point for a young team. But that's exactly what McCoy sees it as and he said it's time to give Tampa Bay fans what they deserve.

"The fans just want to see a winner," McCoy said. "So going on a two-game win streak coming home, I personally believe we'll have a sold-out crowd. Baltimore coming in, that's a huge game, especially coming off a two-game win streak and coming back home? I would hate to be the opposing team because I know how crazy our fans are going to be. This league is a game of momentum. It's hard to stop anybody once they get rolling."

Rams vs. Buccaneers preview

September, 12, 2014
9/12/14
8:00
AM ET

It's tough to call the second game of the season a "must-win" situation. But that might not be far off what the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are facing this week.

Both teams are coming off embarrassing losses that could set the tone for disastrous seasons. But a victory in Week 2 could save a season -- at least for the moment.

ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas take a look at this matchup:

Yasinskas: Nick, let's cut right to the chase. Are the Rams as bad as they looked against the Vikings in the opener?

Wagoner: I don't think the Rams are as bad as they were in Week 1, but I can understand why some might view it that way. That isn't to say this team just had an off-day and is about to string 15 wins together. The issue in Week 1 boiled down to the Rams failing to do the things they believe they will do well this year. Namely, this is a team built to run the ball to set up play-action on offense and dominate defensively, but they didn't control the line of scrimmage well enough on either side of the ball to do that. On paper, this looked like an offensive line that could be really good if everyone is healthy -- but even healthy, it looked like an aging group unable to block basic four-man rushes.

Still, I expect the Rams to be more competitive this week, so long as they have veteran quarterback Shaun Hill back from a quad injury.

I suppose the best option now is to redirect back at you: The Bucs disappointed in Week 1 against a backup quarterback, and either way, they're going to see another this week against the Rams. Are they as bad as they showed against the Panthers? How do they bounce back?

Yasinskas: The Bucs were horrible offensively for more than three quarters. Their defense, which is supposed to be a strong point, wasn't much better against Carolina backup Derek Anderson. There weren't a lot of good things to come out of the opener, and I'm not trying to make it out to be more than it was. But the Bucs did score 14 points in the fourth quarter, and they made it a game. It took a long time, but their offense finally showed some rhythm in the fourth and they had a chance to win at the end. Maybe this offense isn't that good, or maybe it just took some time to get things going in the right direction.

I know hopes were high with Sam Bradford, and that all changed with his injury. How much of a difference will it make if Hill is able to play?

Wagoner: Let's be honest here: It's not like the Rams are choosing from a quarterback trio of Elway, Marino and Montana. But of the three they have on the roster, it's pretty clear Hill gives them the best chance to win at this point. He's a steady hand and actually got off to a pretty good start against the Vikings last week before a dropped screen pass and a bad throw that resulted in an interception just before the half. For what it's worth, Jeff Fisher said Hill was trying to throw that ball away but couldn't get it out of bounds because of the quad.

Either way, the Rams need Hill under center because the options behind him -- Austin Davis and Case Keenum -- simply aren't going to get the job done. Of course, it won't matter who is under center if the offensive line doesn't perform better than it did the past week. That group has to give Hill time to throw and open some holes in the run game for this offense to have any chance of success against that Tampa defense.

Speaking of that defense, Lovie Smith once coordinated the group in St. Louis, and we all have a pretty good idea of what he likes to do. But now that he's back with the Bucs as the head coach, what are some wrinkles he's bringing to the table, and how good can that group be with guys such as Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David in the system?

Yasinskas: McCoy and David are two excellent cornerstones around which to build the defense. But as we found out against Carolina, the Bucs need more than that. The key to a Smith defense is getting pressure from the front four, and the Bucs didn't do that against the Panthers. They came up with one sack (by McCoy) and got no pressure on the outside. Defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Michael Johnson have talent, but they have to be more productive for Smith's defense to really work. If the defense gets pressure, the turnovers will flow. If it doesn't get pressure, the defense will be nothing more than ordinary. McCoy and David are the stars of the defense, but the Bucs need Clayborn and Johnson to really make things click.

Tampa Bay's offensive line is a huge question, and the Bucs might be without injured guard Logan Mankins. Like any quarterback, Josh McCown is going to struggle if he's pressured. Are the Rams capable of putting a lot of pressure on McCown? If so, that will stall Tampa Bay's offense.

Wagoner: The strength of the Rams' defense is certainly found in the front four and the pass rush in general. Of course, that wasn't all that evident this past week against Minnesota. The Vikings only allowed one sack, and that came because of a botched snap. But Minnesota had a good game plan and made it a point to get the ball out quickly, which negated the Rams' pass rush. In fact, Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel averaged the fewest air yards per attempt of any quarterback in Week 1.

The Bucs know exactly what the Rams' pass rush can do after Robert Quinn gave them all kinds of headaches in the past year's meeting. But the Rams have to be better in coverage on underneath stuff if they want their pass rush to take off as it should.

McCown had some success throwing against the Rams last year when he was with the Bears, and the Bucs have a couple big, physical receivers on the outside. If things are going how the Bucs want, what type of challenges do they present to the Rams' defense?

Yasinskas: Let's assume for a second the offensive line plays a decent game. If that's the case, McCown will have time to throw, and he has some nice targets to work with. Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are all at least 6-foot-5. That creates all sorts of matchup problems for a secondary. Evans and Seferian-Jenkins are only rookies, but they can be impact players. Jackson is a proven receiver who probably doesn't get the recognition he deserves.

But like I said, the offensive line will be the key. If McCown has time to throw, he can be an efficient quarterback. If he doesn't have time, he'll show why he's been a backup most of his career.

#NFLRank 2014: Takeaways from 21-30

August, 27, 2014
8/27/14
10:00
AM ET
Three takeaways from ESPN's #NFLRank reveal the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the league. Today: 21-30.

1. Receiver rep: If you told someone that the Houston Texans' Andre Johnson is the eighth-best receiver in the NFL, as #NFLRank placed him in 2014, you probably wouldn't get much argument. But if you asked for a preference between Johnson, the Cleveland Browns' Josh Gordon or the Washington Redskins' DeSean Jackson, you might very well get a different answer. Clearly, Gordon's off-field issues make it difficult to make an accurate projection for the short-term. All things equal, however, he is a better player at 23 than Johnson is at 33. You could make an argument Jackson should be ranked ahead of Johnson, as well. Although it's not his fault, the Texans' woeful quarterback situation for this season does not bode well for a big year.

2. QB comparison: The composite #NFLRank voter would take Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson over the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger (by a small margin) and the San Diego Chargers' Philip Rivers (by a bit more). Would you? There is no doubt that Wilson is younger, thus giving us fair reason to assume we probably haven't seen him yet at his best. He is a perfect quarterback for the way the Seahawks are constructed as a dominant team with an elite running back. On the other hand, what would happen if Wilson quarterbacked a team that relied on passing production to win, as both Roethlisberger and Rivers have done at times in their careers -- would he match them? It's at least a reasonable debate to engage.

3. Lavonte and Lovie: As he enters his third season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Lavonte David is already considered by #NFLRank voters to be the No. 25 defensive player in the NFL. His elite playmaking last season is especially impressive for a 4-3 outside linebacker, and there is plenty of interest and excitement around the league for how new Bucs coach Lovie Smith will use him in 2014. In Smith's scheme, it must be remembered, fellow outside linebacker Lance Briggs developed into one of this generation's best defensive players for the Chicago Bears. It's rare for an outside linebacker in any scheme to compile seven sacks, intercept five passes and defend a total of 10 passes in one season. David is versatile and should be a force for years to come.

Lavonte David a well-kept secret

August, 27, 2014
8/27/14
9:30
AM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- The comparisons started among Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans as soon as Lavonte David was drafted in 2012.

It seemed far-fetched, or at least very premature, but David instantly was seen as the second coming of Derrick Brooks. These days, that doesn’t seem like quite a stretch.

“It’s very early in his career and Derrick’s a Hall of Famer, so it’s hard to say that at this point,’’ Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “But if there’s anybody that has a chance as an outside linebacker to end up on the Derrick Brooks level, Lavonte has those qualities. His instincts, his ability to make big plays, and his ability to lift everyone up around him are similar to what Derrick had. Lavonte has those qualities. He has the chance to be one of the great players in this league.’’

As Brooks was, David is a weakside linebacker with a knack for big plays. David is coming off a 2013 season in which he had 145 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and five interceptions. Look at what Brooks did in the first two years of his career and David stacks up pretty well.

“It’s nerve-wracking being compared to that guy," David said. “He’s a Hall of Famer. All it does is motivate me to keep working hard, and maybe one day I can get to where he’s at."

Despite the brilliant start to his career, David remains one of the NFL’s best-kept secrets -- outside of Tampa Bay. David was overlooked for the Pro Bowl last season, but was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. In ESPN.com's rankings of the NFL's top 100 defensive players, David came in at No. 25. He was 98th a year ago.

“[The Pro Bowl snub] didn't bother me as much as people might think," David said. “I can only control what I can control. I just go out there and play my hardest. Being voted first-team All-Pro is better than being voted to the Pro Bowl, in my opinion."

The Pro Bowls will come as long as David continues to produce, and all indications are he will. With Lovie Smith taking over as head coach, the Bucs are returning to the Tampa 2 defense that was famous back when Brooks was playing. Weakside linebacker is a crucial position in the Tampa 2 as that player is expected to go from side to side against the run and drop in coverage or blitz against the pass. Frazier said David is a perfect fit for the scheme.

“He sees things before they happen," Smith said. “He studies extremely hard. You should see him in the classroom. He’s asking questions all the time. He’s always looking for more. And then he goes on the football field and you can see that he’s applying what he’s learned. That’s not always the case. That makes him a very special talent."

How special can David be?

“The sky is the limit," Frazier said. “The way he works, as smart as he is, the talent he has -- he should go to a lot of Pro Bowls before his career is over. I’m looking forward to being a part of his evolution. He can be as good as any outside linebacker that’s played the game, in my opinion. I think he has those traits."

SPONSORED HEADLINES