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Bucs’ defense still holds the key to the 2020 season

The unit still has a lot to prove and the players know it.

Devin White —and the Bucs defense— is poised for a big year in 2020.
| Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Make no mistake about it. Devin White is a confident guy.

He wears confidence like a fitted suit. It’s one of the reasons why the Bucs - and many other NFL teams - were so enamored with the No. 5 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. So it’s no surprise that he is just as confident as his head coach when it comes to what Tampa Bay’s defense can do in 2020.

White sat down with reporters during a Zoom call on Thursday to talk Bucs. One of the first questions asked was if the defense could/would carry the team in 2020, even after the additions of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

So, naturally, White responded with that well-known confidence.

“I still feel that [way],” White told reporters from what appeared to be the comfort of his own living quarters. “Before we signed Tom or Gronk —me and coach Bowles— we always said in the offseason as we’ve been talking and preparing that we were gonna be the ones to carry the team, the team is gonna go as far as we go.”

That sounds stressful, but it’s a burden the second-year linebacker wants to bear. He was sitting in a laid-back position with arms outstretched before the question, but now he was sitting straight up. “We got to always want to put the game on our back. We want it to come down to that the offense is going to score, we got to stop the other team. We want the game to be on us at the end of the game because we know we’re gonna come through, we just know that much about ourselves. We believe that much in ourselves as far as a defensive unit and everybody saw what we did last year and that was our first year together with a new coaching staff and everything, new players, young players, a couple vets and now we want to build off that.”

Arizona Cardinals v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
White is one of the most athletic linebackers in the NFL.
Photo by Will Vragovic/Getty Images

That’s good news for the Bucs because their season will depend on how far this defense can go. The unit showed a ton of promise after a rough start to last year. Per Pro Football Reference, the Bucs’ defense was 13th-best in yards allowed and tied for fourth-best in turnovers and points allowed from Weeks 9-17. The team also went 5-4 over that span. By the end of the year, Football Outsiders had the Bucs rated as the fifth-best overall defense and the third-best weighted defense.

There’s so much that can go right in 2020, but there’s also a lot that can go wrong. If things go right, it’s likely the third winning season since 2010 and a trip to the postseason for the first time since the 2007 season. If things go wrong, though, the Bucs could end up in familiar territory.

The one thing the Bucs have going against them is in fact themselves. They’re a young squad. In the grand scheme of things, that’s great - you want your team to be young in order to compete on a regular basis. But with youth often comes volatility. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s certainly worth considering.

What if the Bucs don’t take the needed step forward? What if they get off to another rough start on defense?

White even said during the call that the defense didn’t play well early on was because of the youth/inexperience on that side of the ball.

“We had a lot of guys who were 21, 22 on the field still trying to figure things out.”

Obviously, that changed as the season went on. The Bucs proved that they can figure it out, but now it’s about taking the next step and getting over the proverbial hump.

That won’t be easy, though and White knows this. The NFL is all about catching up to opponents, so it will be on himself and his teammates to get to the next level in 2020. If they can accomplish that, then the sky is the limit in Tampa Bay.

“We’re not just going to sit back and say, “Hey, we’re the No. 1 run defense.” No, that’s out of the way,” White said. “We’ve gotta go prove that times ten next year because people are going to know (the Bucs) have a good front and now we’ve gotta still hold up because they’re going to try to hit us with different things.

But I think that’s where we come in as players, we want to be better. We want to get better. I know everybody is working their tails off tremendously even with this Coronavirus that we are going through, just to make sure that when we come back we need to be in the best shape and we need to already know ball. We need to have all of our installs already down so when we come back, we can hit it.”

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