Thursday, July 16, 2020

David Lewis, Former Bucs LB: Gone Too Soon

By John Turney
Art credit: Dick Lubey
This morning the sad word spread of the passing for former Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebacker David Lewis. He was a too-young sixty-five.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Lewis coached at Tampa Catholic High from 1986 to 1990, compiling a 33-19 record and winning a district title.

At the University of Southern California Lewis was a three-year varsity letterman from 1974-76 after playing a year at San Diego City College. As a senior, he was a First-team All-Pac-8 and the year before led the Trojans in tackles (90) and left USC with two Rose Bowl championships (1975 & 1977)

He is survived by his wife and a daughter. He was predeceased by his son.

Lewis after his stardom at USC and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second-round (29th overall) of the 1977 NFL Draft by his former coach John McKay.

He started as a rookie for the Bucs and made an immediate impact and was recognized as an All-Rookie pick by Football Digest. He improved every year through 1980, making Second-team All-Pro in 1979 (As well as All-NFC) and was a Pro Bowler in 1980.

However, the wheels kind of came off after that. In 1981, after slow to the season, (he had a disciplinary issue then sprained an ankle in warmups in mid-season and it was never right the rest of the season but regained his starting job only to lose it again by season's end.

The AP summed it up this way:
After the season he was traded to the Chargers for a 3rd round pick and a 4th round pick where he began the year as a starter but, again, lost the starting gig again unable to stay healthy (a knee this time) but also Lindon King simply outplaying Lewis.

He was released after the season and in 1983 he signed with the Los Angeles Rams and another coach familiar with his talents—John Robinson.

With the Rams, he was the middle linebacker in their sub defenses (nickel and dime) and did a fine job, especially late in the year when that subpackage was particularly effective and was a key to the playoff win in Dallas that season. However, he didn't make the team in 1984 and his NFL career was over.

Lewis, though, was really, someone who was overlooked in his prime of 1977-80. He was a linebacker who could cover, blitz when called upon and would make a lot of tackles in the backfield for the Bucs.
Chart credit: Pro Football Journal
In 1979, Jack Ham and Robert Brazile were the consensus All-Pro outside linebackers, Ham being the left 'backer for the Steelers. And while still great, 1979 was not Ham's best season, he was hobbled some and some of the writers who picked their personable All-Pro teams looked elsewhere or one of their outside linebackers as it was a particularly strong season for strong-side 'backers.

One could pick any one of a half-dozen and not be wrong. And Lewis was among that group that was composed of Matt Blair and Brad Van Pelt (Pro Bowlers both), Bob Swenson of Denver who could pound any tight end in the league, the Rams' Jim Youngblood (73 tackles, 1½ sacks, five picks—two for touchdowns, nine passes defended and a forced fumble) and Kim Bokamper (a SAM in base and a left defensive end in nickel who had 8 sacks in that combined role).

Lewis had 89 tackles, 13 stuffs (tackle for a loss tallied the same as sacks) plus 5½ sacks, four forced fumbles two picks and right passes defensed plus a scoop and score numbers just as good as any of the "non-Jack Hams" if you will.

Though complete stats are not available, PFJ has done enough research that we are confident that Lewis's 57 run stuffs over a four-year period (1977-80) about as many are you are going to find from any off-the-ball linebacker—more than Hall of Famers  Ray Lewis (best four consecutive seasons is 53 stuffs) and Junior Seau (52 stuffs) and trailing only the Buccaneers own Lavonte David who had 57.5 in his first four seasons—rare company indeed.

The 6-4, 245-pound Lewis was the classic complete 3-4 linebacker and as such, he didn't get the big sack numbers and sometimes, still, got overlooked in a lot of ways. But he had a worthy run from 1977-80 and it should be remembered fondly. We do remember it that way.


  1. How can an off-the-ball linebacker make a stuff? Sounds technically impossible to me.

    1. Off the ball refers to where that style of D has the LB PRE-SNAP. As the player, in this case Lewis, reads the run they will attack the line and rusher, this is an underrated talent the FB intelligence of which gap to attack and how. Some underrated greats at this include Lewis, Ed McDaniel and Lavonte David. Some LB's who are well know had poor instincts in this category, Jesse Tuggle, London Fletcher, these guys made a lot of drag-down tackles downfield.

    2. Same as a safety can make a stuff--anyone who gets the tackle on the running back or reviever behind the line of scrimmage gets the "stuff" or "TFL" of whatever you want to call it.

  2. lewis was very good at stopping the wide sweeps that were popular in his era.

    Ham made dr z's all pro team in 79 but said he was losing track of him in games and I noticed that as well on film review. would be interesting to hear his psi grade for 79.

    Nick, are you saying that fletcher and tuggler were a bit overrated?

    1. They were overrated. Each was solid but in both cases they benefitted from very liberal (inflated) coaching tackle stats and made few impact plays.

      Tuggle's team versus PBP TT's for the meat of his career were as follows:
      Year - Team - PBP
      1989 - 183 - 113
      1990 - 201 - 87
      1991 - 207 - 110
      1992 - 193 - 108
      1993 - 185 - 143
      1994 - 129 - 133
      1995 - 152 - 154
      1996 - 114 - 114