The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ linebacker Devin White, the No. 5 overall pick last year, found himself thrust into an immediate leadership role in 2019 as he helped his rookie class forge an instant bond, which they carried onto the field.
White helped spark a defense that was the best in the league against the rush and finished third on the team with 91 total tackles.
This year, the Bucs have leaned on his leadership even more with teams operating virtually due to COVID-19. They haven’t gotten the face time that helped build last year’s camaraderie, but he’s done his best to help ease the transition.
“I wanted to always be treated like a vet last year, because I always prepared like a vet,” White said on a zoom conference Thursday. “I became closer with my inside linebacker coach on becoming more of a student of the game so guys can lean on me in certain situation. I’m trying to establish myself as one of the smartest players on the field.”
Unlike last offseason, which was filled with rookie minicamps, OTAs and on-field installations, White has had a much more unique lead-up to the 2020 season so far.
Virtual meetings with the staff and teammates and installs have taken up much of the last few months. While from a workout standpoint, the team sent White equipment to continue to keep his body as close to football shape as possible.
“They sent me dumbbells and sleds and a lot of bands,” White said of the offseason training regiment. “What you do or don’t have, (strength and conditioning coach Anthony Piroli), he goes in and modifies what he wants your workout to be. At first I didn’t have a barbell bench, so he made all my upper body workouts with dumbbells.”
White is hoping the unorthodox offseason doesn’t stymie any of the momentum gained from his rookie season.
The Tampa Bay defense didn’t really start clicking until the second half of the season. The Bucs gave up at least 27 points in all but one of their first eight games, but then went 5-3 over the final eight games.
White attributes the shaky start to the young players getting acclimated to the speed and physicality of the NFL.
“We had a lot of guys that were 21 and 22 on the field still trying to figure things out,” White said. “At one point we were still alive for the playoffs ... We started to feed off that momentum and it showed us how great we could be as a defense. That carried on through the end of the season.”
White believes the strong finish helped retain the core of the unit with the Bucs bringing back guys like Shaquil Barrett Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh in the offseason.
Keeping the gang together has provided a springboard into next season.
“Everybody knows we have the chemistry already locked in,” White said. “We’re running the same plays we mastered at the end of the year and we can build off what we did last year. In the front seven, we know we were the best rush defense in the NFL last year, but that’s not good enough. We feel like we needed more takeaways.
“You see what you did great, but you want to improve off it.”