State of the Union 2017 – Linebackers

What seemed promising at the end of the 2015 season came to fruition in 2016 – the Bucs linebacking corps is a force to behold. MLB Kwon Alexander and OLB Lavonte David lead one of the best linebacking units in the league. They should only improve the longer they work together.

You would be hard pressed to find a more productive linebacker duo than Alexander and David. They combined for 175 tackles, eight sacks, two interceptions, five fumbles, 10 pass defenses and 15 stuffs according to Sporting Charts.

Alexander continued his progression from an athletic rookie standout to a more consistent field general for the defense. In Mike Smith’s defense, the second-year standout bears significantly more responsibility than he did under Lovie Smith. The shift to more gap-oriented responsibilities from a Tampa-2 deep zone system seems to agree with Alexander.

That same shift took some of Lavonte David’s responsibility to be everywhere all at once. He had the fewest tackles of his career in 2016, but that’s by no means indicative of a downslide in effectiveness.

In fact, Mike Smith rectified one of Lovie’s missteps in scheming David: blitzes. Though he’s a smaller linebacker, David’s speed makes him a dangerous pass-rusher. His five sacks in 2016 is the most he’s had since 2013 when he collect seven sacks under Greg Schiano.

Following a league-wide trend, the Bucs utilized their third linebacker less than half the time. Veteran Daryl Smith only played 44.9 percent of the Bucs’ defensive snaps in 2016. While this is an increase from Danny Lansanah’s 34.1 percent of snaps in 2015, the Bucs frequently utilize a nickel formation that leaves Alexander and David the only linebackers on the field.

Smith isn’t under contract at the moment, but he could be re-signed at any point likely for another one-year deal. The Bucs also have 2015 sixth-round pick Devante Bond returning from injured reserve. He will no doubt compete for the starting strongside linebacker position this summer.

It’s become a yearly ritual for the Bucs to completely shuffle their linebacker depth. It’s anyone’s guess what the linebacker roster will look like by the end of training camp. What’s important is the list is topped by Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, as it should be for the foreseeable future.

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