There’s a lot of talent on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense, but the light with the potential to shine longest in the league potentially belongs to inside linebacker, Devin White.
Coming out of LSU in 2019, the fifth-overall pick in the year’s NFL Draft surely heard or saw some of the grumbling coming out of portions of the Bucs’ fanbase who wanted a guy like Josh Allen or Ed Oliver, over the off-ball linebacker.
If he did hear - or see - it, he didn’t let it get to him, and he finished camp looking to get off to a fast start in the 2019 NFL Season. Of course, we know now, it didn’t happen. Illness struck first and White had to have minor oral surgery leading up to Tampa Bay’s Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Then, in Week 2, White was injured early against the Carolina Panthers. A game where Shaquil Barrett made himself known to one of the Bucs’ divisional rivals. White wouldn’t step onto the field during a live game again for the next month. In his first five weeks as an NFL player, White totaled eight tackles for his team.
They say it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and White finished with 91 tackles, 2.5 sacks, four fumble recoveries, one interception, and two touchdowns. That finish to his first season has almost everyone saying Tampa Bay has the best linebacker duo in the entire NFL.
For White though, his focus is getting off to a good start in 2020, building on what he did in the back half of 2019. The lessons he learned as an injured rookie, is a part of what’s driving him towards that goal.
“Having to wear that brace, it was challenging,” White said. “I felt like a robot and felt like I needed extra help. I think it just told me that the man up above, he was just letting me know that he was guiding me, he was my strength. I think it just made me more patient. My patience level it’s not good. I always want to be on the field. I always want to be right in the midst of everything with my teammates, and I always want to be helping them get to a victory. I wasn’t able to do that, and it was the first time ever in my life having to sit out games or even miss practice, and I’ve been playing ball since I was five years old. That just lets you know. At the end of the day it boosted my confidence level up because I was so ready to get back. I had so much time not to be on the field but just to be studying and it made me a better player. So, when I came back, it was all about playmaking. I think I went out there and I showed being able to win Defensive Rookie of the Month two months in a row – that was just a blessing, just letting me know it was all God’s timing, even though I didn’t start off so well, but I finished great.”
A playmaker is what White proved to be during his dominant two-month run as the NFL’s best rookie defender. It’s also what he’s looking to be even more of in year two as he aims for five interceptions...and five sacks...and I think he said he wants five touchdowns too...let’s put it this way: Devin White intends to play fast, and play well.
“I think for me I can play ten times faster than what I did last year. One because I don’t have that brace on and two because I knew the scheme last year, but me knowing the scheme now and knowing where my hip is, who I’m using in the run game, whether it’s Lavonte [David] or the down safety or even if we’re spilling it back to the corner, like if it’s a nub side. I’m knowing more and more now with just the Zoom meetings we were having in the offseason, and this just being my only focus. I’m good. And then it’s the same plays, and the new plays he [Todd Bowles] put in, they’re built off the last year’s plays, so I don’t have a new playbook in front of me. Everything’s just moving just fine for me.”
Confidence is important in a league where the best athletes in the world are literally competing to ensure the other fails in the name of their own success. For Devin White, year two isn’t just a season with Tom Brady and more hype. It’s another chance to show he can be just as effective in September and October as he was in November and December.