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Steven M. Sipple: Part of Lavonte's secret? 'He can contort his body like a mouse,' Ekeler says
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Steven M. Sipple: Part of Lavonte's secret? 'He can contort his body like a mouse,' Ekeler says

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Nebraska football fans' respect for Lavonte David is so thorough and enormous that it actually might be interesting to hear about any weaknesses as a player he might have had at NU. 

Remember, we're talking about a guy who had 152 tackles in 2010, which remains a school record.

"Yeah, he definitely had a weakness," Mike Ekeler, the former Nebraska linebackers coach (2008-10), said earlier this week. "He was selfish." 

Selfish? Really?

"Dude, he made every damn tackle, and no one else could make a tackle," Ekeler said. "That was his one weakness." 

In other words, David really had no weakness. In 2010, while starring for a Nebraska team that finished 10-4, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound dynamo averaged 10.9 tackles per game to lead the Big 12 and rank 11th nationally. He was second on the team in sacks with six for 50 yards, tackles for loss (15 for 60 yards) and pass breakups (10). 

How good was David? He missed one tackle all season — yes, only one, Ekeler said. 

It was against Colorado, in the regular-season finale. 

"They were going into the north end zone, on the left hash," the coach recalled. "Inside zone. In the 'B' gap. Wide open. The guy made him miss, and that was the only time all year. That's a fact."

Ekeler still marvels at David's prowess. Same goes for Nebraska fans, many of whom will be watching as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) play the Washington Football Team (7-9) at 7:15 p.m. Saturday during the NFL's Wild Card Weekend. David, whose 117 tackles this season rank second on the team, is joined on the Bucs' defense by former Huskers Ndamukong Suh and Khalil Davis. 

What's more, Tampa Bay's general manager is Jason Licht, who lettered as an offensive lineman at Nebraska in 1991, a third-year sophomore toiling behind the likes of Will Shields and Brenden Stai. Seeking more playing time, he transferred to Nebraska Wesleyan and became a defensive tackle. 

He's put together a Bucs roster that's equipped to make a deep playoff run.

Ekeler, now the special-teams coordinator at North Texas, also keeps close tabs on former Nebraska linebacker Will Compton (2008-12), who's in his second go-round with the Tennessee Titans (11-5). They'll take on the Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at noon Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee.

Compton is the smartest player he's ever coached, Ekeler said. However, no offense to Will, he isn't quite as talented as David. 

"When I was a kid, we had mice that would run through our kitchen," Ekeler said. "We had this pocket door that pulled out. There was probably a quarter-inch between the floor and the door. I was chasing a mouse once and he got flat as a pancake and slid through. That's Lavonte David. He could slip through a crack. It was incredible. It was like he was (Harry) Houdini. 

"He can contort his body like a mouse, find his way through traffic and make the tackle." 

This helps explain why David on Friday was named a second-team All-Pro. He was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2013 and a Pro Bowler in 2015. He's obviously still playing at an elite level. To wit: He was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September. 

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Ex-Huskers in the NFL, 1/4

He's the type of player that coaches study, literally. 

For instance, Ekeler marvels at David's ability to set up blocks. 

"After coaching him, I definitely studied him, especially that part," Ekeler said. "I didn't teach him that. Setting up blocks is all about relationships. Where's the ball? Where's the block? How much space does the defender have? And you have to make a full-speed decision on how you're going to defeat the block and go make a play. There are obviously different techniques to take on a block.  

"Well, Lavonte, with just his natural instincts, had such an unbelievable ability to make those decisions. I probably have 100 clips on my teach tape of Lavonte David setting up blocks. A lot of what I teach to this day is because of Lavonte."  

Ekeler said David is an extremely intelligent person, and that intelligence obviously helps him on Sundays. That might come as a surprise to people who put stereotypes on junior-college players. David came to Nebraska from Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College. He left NU in 2011 as the school's fourth all-time leading tackler despite spending only two seasons there. 

His intelligence is part of the reason David has lasted nearly a decade in the NFL. But there's another reason. 

"He absolutely loves football," Ekeler said. "The first question an NFL scout asks you when they're looking at one of your guys is, 'On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does he love the game?' Lavonte is probably a 12." 

Why is that such an important trait?

"Because if you don't love the game, it's too damned hard," said Ekeler, whose love for the sport is immense. "If you don't love it, you'll never be great. The grind is too hard. And Lavonte's work ethic matched his love for the game."

Compton, who recorded a team-leading 110 tackles for Nebraska as a senior in 2012, also "eats, sleeps and drinks football," Ekeler said.  

"I've said it before, there's not a smarter player in the NFL than Will Compton," the coach said. 

Oh, c'mon. 

"No way," Ekeler said flatly.

Before Compton's senior season at Nebraska, he went into head coach Bo Pelini's office and asked Pelini to teach him how to break down film. 

"So each Sunday, as the coaches broke down opponents, Will would break them down, too," Ekeler said. "I'm not so sure Will Compton's breakdowns weren't better than most coaches."  

The highest-level performers are always looking for edges. All the time. But especially at playoff time. ’Tis the season. Enjoy.

Former Huskers playing in the NFL

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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