Lavonte David emerging as leader

TAMPA, Fla. -- At the two-minute warning of Monday night’s victory over Miami, Lavonte David did something that surprised his coach.

The linebacker spoke up, loudly and emphatically telling the Tampa Bay defense it had to shut down the Dolphins on a last-gasp drive.

“That’s not his personality,’’ coach Greg Schiano said. “He’s not an outspoken guy. But, as of late, when he feels it’s appropriate, he’s spoken up. It’s one of those deals -- when you don’t speak up much, once you do, everybody stops and listens. His word carries a lot of weight.’’

But it’s not David’s words that have caught the attention of a lot of people around the NFL. On a Wednesday conference call, Atlanta coach Mike Smith said David’s playing at a Pro Bowl level. Several media outlets had him on midseason All-Pro teams.

It’s tough to argue with any of that. In his second season, David has 77 tackles, five sacks, an interception and five passes defensed. David is the only player in the NFL with five sacks and five passes defensed.

“I think Lavonte can be as good as there is,’’ Schiano said. “I think he’s close to that right now as far as his productivity week in and week out. He’s growing as a leader. He’s getting more comfortable in that role. He was a captain at Nebraska. When you come in as a rookie, you kind of earn your stripes. I think everybody in that locker room knows he’s special. We count on him for a lot. From his rookie year on, he called the defenses. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody.’’