The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will reportedly be without starting inside linebacker and a leader on their defense in Lavonte David against the Philadelphia Eagles. David left the Bucs' Week 5 contest against Miami with a low-ankle sprain, and as a result, he could miss games beyond Thursday night's matchup as he recovers.
David has played an instrumental part in Tampa Bay's defensive success over the years, especially in the team's Super Bowl run in 2020. Although, despite his presence being incredibly valuable, the Buccaneers are confident in the next-men-up at David's position.
Ninth-year pro Kevin Minter is expected to start in place of David, a role that Minter has filled in the past - whether it was for David or fellow inside linebacker Devin White.
“I just prepare like I always do. I’ve been in this role before, obviously having to fill in for Devin or Lavonte in some type of capacity in the past," Minter said on Monday. "It’s business as usual. It’s football, things happen. You just prepare for the next opponent and however it plays out, it plays out.”
Minter entered the Miami game this past Sunday after David left the field, and earned praise from head coach Bruce Arians for his three-tackle performance. Arians has plenty of experience coaching Minter as the two were together for four years with the Arizona Cardinals.
"He knows exactly what he’s doing," Arians said. "He’s been around for a while. He knows our system through and through. He was able to come in and make some plays for us to help us seal the game.”
Taking the field in a reserve role as well as on special teams this year, Minter has accumulated seven total tackles and a quarterback hit. Since joining Tampa Bay in 2018, Minter has tallied 66 tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss, three passes defended and a fumble recovery in 41 games, starting three in that span.
Minter is a capable backup and is far from a bad option to fill in for a starter, however, he's struggled with missed tackles and in coverage throughout his career, which could cause concern against a mobile, strong-armed Eagles quarterback in Jalen Hurts.
Should Tampa Bay feel displeased with Minter's performance in David's place, the team can turn to two rookies that were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft: K.J. Britt and Grant Stuard.
Britt has been listed as a second-teamer at inside linebacker alongside Minter since the preseason and would presumably step into the lineup over Stuard if the Bucs' decided to opt for a rookie. Stuard made the Buccaneers' roster due to his prowess on special teams, although his speed and tackling power could lead to plays made defensively if he's handed an opportunity to do so.
"I think he is more than ready. There has been time now," Arians said on Monday, asked if Britt could realistically contribute on defense at this point in his career. "Those guys have had a ton of snaps. I think he and Grant both – they’ll be more than ready to play if they have to.”
Britt has posted two tackles to begin his Buccaneers career, while Stuard has put together two tackles as well.
David's injury is far from ideal considering his experience, play-making ability and leadership qualities. His injury also adds to a long list of hurt Buccaneers defenders, joining cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting, Carlton Davis III, and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. as players who are not expected to play against Philadelphia, and in some cases longer.
Still, Tampa Bay is confident that its options to replace David in the short term can get the job done.
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