Secret Superstars: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Our Secret Superstar series continues with a look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a player who finally made his breakthrough in 2014, seven years after first reaching the NFL, linebacker Danny Lansanah.
With the arrival of Lovie Smith in Tampa ahead of the 2014 season, the Buccaneers embarked on a period of rebuilding. They now hope they have their franchise quarterback, and a few nice pieces for him to work with. However while they wait for the offense to grow, the defense needs to step up and play the sort of football that made Smith’s Chicago Bears team competitive for so long. Lansanah showed in 2014 that he can play a role in that revival.
A two-star recruit out of high school, Lansanah was a three-year starter for Connecticut. He started out gaining experience on the outside, but played in the middle as a senior when he was named to the 2007 All-Big East team. He didn’t exactly jump off the tape as a top pro prospect ahead of the 2008 draft, so it was no surprise when he went undrafted and had to settle for the rookie free agent route into the league.
That chance came with the Green Bay Packers who placed him on the practice squad for the season proper, before promoting him to the active roster for a handful of games, but cut him the following spring. Stints on the practice squads of the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions followed, before Lansanah’s first spell in the NFL was abruptly ended. His NFL production had amounted to just two tackles on special teams for the Packers. However, while the league had moved on, Lansanah had not and he took the road less trodden, via three seasons in the UFL.
Lansanah’s second coming as an NFL player didn’t start off much more auspiciously than the first – he spent most of the 2013 season bouncing on and off the New York Jets’ practice squad. By the end of the year he was in Tampa Bay and made the active roster for the final game. His prospects for 2014 probably didn’t look much brighter at that point, but the arrival of Lovie Smith changed everything for Lansanah. He quickly took to the Tampa 2-based scheme, and showed the versatility to play all three linebacker roles.
Lansanah wasn’t a starter in Week 1, but he was by Week 4. His 27 stops in run defense as a 4-3 outside linebacker helped him to a 10.1 Run Stop Percentage, second on the team among linebackers, and 12th in the league at the position. His 14.5 Tackling Efficiency in the passing game was 11th-best among 4-3 linebackers. Three interceptions (two pick-sixes) and two pass deflections helped Lansanah hold opposing QBs to a 84.4 passer rating, and a +1.5 coverage grade.
Earning his Spot
In terms of play on the field, the trait that jumps out first when watching Lansanah is his awareness. That awareness was evident on the first of his pick-six plays, which came against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3. On that play, Lansanah kept his head up while dropping into his zone, which let him see the pass as it came out of Matt Ryan’s hand, and break on the ball. From there it was an easy run to the end zone, but it was the way he read the pass that made the play.
Lansanah has also shown the ability to find the right angles to avoid full on contact with blockers, and instead slip past them to make the play. With 7:30 left in the second against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8, Lansanah followed the play to the left, evaded the lunging Jerome Felton and tackled the ball-carrier for a 3-yard loss. With 3:42 left in the first quarter during the Week 13 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals, Lansanah lined up as the MLB, and dropped in his zone from the snap. However, he quickly diagnosed the screen andpicked the angle to skip past the block from Russell Bodine and prevent a big gain on the play. Neither was a special play, but both demonstrated a level of competence that you want to see from a starting linebacker.
In addition to his ability to elude blockers, two plays from the Week 6 game against the Baltimore Ravens show that Lansanah can also take them on directly. At 13:56 in the first quarter, Lansanah was met by Marshal Yanda at the gap the run was headed for. He was able to move Yanda back a couple of yards which disrupting the run, and resulted in a loss of yards on the play. At 4:31 left in the third, Lansanah isn’t in on the tackle, but he met the lead blocker, Kyle Juszczyk, head on and won, effectively closing the intended gap for the runner.
While his awareness is usually a strength, he can sometimes focus a little too much on what’s happening in the backfield. Against the Detroit Lions in Week 14, he failed to drop deep enough in coverage, leaving Joseph Fauria with a sizeable pocket of space for an easy touchdown. Two weeks earlier against the Chicago Bears, Lansanah struggled at times with misdirection plays, one of which (at 6:12 in the third) resulted in a touchdown run for Matt Forte. Lansanah bit hard when the play flowed to the right, which left him poorly positioned when Forte cut to the left. If he’d shown a little more discipline, he had a chance to stop that for a 3-yard gain.
With Lavonte David on the weakside, and Bruce Carter expected to take the middle, Lansanah should continue to make an impact from the strongside for the Buccaneers in 2015.