- Associated Press - Saturday, October 18, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Danny Lansanah’s journey back to the NFL is a tale of hard work and perseverance that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker shares with a smile.

The Bucs (1-5) are off to another slow start, however, Lansanah has gone from not playing in the league for nearly five years to a starter. His unlikely story is a reminder of the things that can be accomplished when people refuse to give up.

Tampa Bay used part of this week’s bye to brush up on fundamentals and make adjustments in the wake of a 48-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Players departed for a long weekend break after receiving a simple message from Coach Lovie Smith: The season is still young, and there is plenty of time for the struggling team that ranks 29th in offense and 32nd in defense to not only get on track, but climb into playoff contention.

Second-year quarterback Mike Glennon noted how an 0-8 start doomed Tampa Bay in the NFC South a year ago. But with Carolina (3-2-1), New Orleans (2-3) and Atlanta (2-4) also searching for answers, no one has taken charge of the division.

“Where we’re at, crazy as it may seem, we’re not far out,” Glennon said. “If we just start plugging away, one at a time, we can be right back in this thing.”

Lansanah was been one of the pleasant surprises in an otherwise disappointing six-week stretch for the defense, which was expected to be the strength of the team.

In addition to being blown out when Joe Flacco threw for five touchdowns in the first 16 minutes of last Sunday’s loss to the Ravens at home, the Bucs were embarrassed 56-12 at Atlanta last month. They lost to Carolina and St. Louis at home despite facing backup quarterbacks, and blew an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead before losing at New Orleans in overtime.

Lansanah, meanwhile, is a little-known player who’s worked his way into the lineup. He leads the team with two interceptions, returning both for touchdowns to join Houston’s J.J. Watt as the only NFL players who’ve scored a pair of defensive TDs this season.

“I’d rather get wins than individual accolades. But it’s always a plus when you go out and make plays to help your team, score points and stuff like that,” said Lansanah, who scored in losses to the Falcons and Saints. “It’s kind of bittersweet.”

But just the fact he’s even in the league is reason to revel.

Lansanah originally entered as an undrafted free agent with Green Bay in 2008. He appeared in five games with the Packers as a rookie, but by his own admission took playing in the league for granted and wound up being cut in training camp the following year.

He later spent time on the practice squad with the Dolphins and Lions, and played three seasons in the United Football League with the Hartford Colonels and Las Vegas Locomotives. He got his next big break in 2013 while working as a counselor and mentor in a rehabilitation program for troubled teens in his hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The New York Jets, who saw him in a UFL game, invited him for a tryout. He signed with them, spending 10 weeks on the practice squad but never appearing in a regular-season game before being released and signed by Tampa Bay last December.

He made his debut for the Bucs in the 2013 season finale at New Orleans, notched his first NFL tackle since 2008 in this year’s opener, and his role has continued to expand.

“When I first got to the league, I was young and young-minded,” Lansanah, who played in college at Connecticut, said. “Once I got there and made the team as a free agent as a rookie, I felt like I had arrived, and I got complacent. The time I was out of the league was definitely an eye-opening experience. It definitely changed me for the better.”

Now, he’s determined to make the best of a second chance.

“It’s pretty simple. If you get an opportunity for some plays and you do good things, you’re going to get more. It’s like that for every position,” Smith said. “Danny has been solid on the run and, of course, he’s proven that he can intercept the ball.”

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier stressed that Lansanah has earned it.

“He’s a guy who hasn’t given up. He’s bounced around a little bit and he’s kind of found a home. Early on, he wasn’t one of those guys we were counting on,” Frazier said. “We didn’t have him in the starting lineup, and he’s kind of worked his way there by making plays, both in practice and in games to the point where it’s going to be hard for us to take him off the field.”

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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