To no one’s surprise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used their first-round pick on LSU junior inside linebacker Devin White. There are a lot of ways the fast and physical 240-pounder can help the Bucs defense on and off the field, aside from being the tackling machine he was at LSU while posting an average of 128 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss over the last two years, earning him All-American honors in the process.
Here is a look at five ways White can help turn the Bucs defense around and bring it back to the glory days when Tampa Bay had one of the best and most feared units in the NFL under former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
The Bucs view White as a “culture-changing leader,” and that’s one of the reasons why they valued him so much as a prospect. Tampa Bay’s captains on the defensive side of the ball in years past have been defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. McCoy has never been much of a vocal leader and has shied away from that role, choosing to lead by example instead. David is the same way, although last year’s injury to Alexander, who was the fire-starter on defense, forced him to step up in the role of vocal leadership.
Alexander’s departure in free agency prompted the Bucs to find a new “heart and soul” of the defense to replace him, and that’s the role the team envisions White to play in Tampa Bay. White was the heart and soul of the Tigers defense and a tremendous leader. He absolutely loves the game of football and he’ll be the new face of the Bucs defense.
The middle linebacker position carries a lot of importance due to the fact that the MIKE linebacker is the quarterback of the defense. White has only played three years at the linebacker position after being a running back in high school, so he’s still learning the nuances of recognizing offensive alignments and making adjustments.
But White is a quick study and demonstrated the ability to make the calls on the field at LSU. In Tampa, White will play alongside David, who has had to be the quarterback of the defense several times throughout his career with the Bucs under different head coaches and defensive coordinators. Having a veteran linebacker like David alongside him will aid White’s development in this area.
Perfect Scheme Fit
New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles brings an aggressive, attacking style of defense to Tampa Bay that will suit White’s skill set perfectly. Bowles asks his linebackers to play down hill in his one-gap scheme, and White thrived in a similar role at LSU, evidenced by 28.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in his three years with the Tigers.
Aside from being an able blitzer and run-stuffer, White also has the range to drop in coverage. He broke up nine passes and intercepted one at LSU, and was a bit of a ballhawk with three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. White is only 20 years old and has tremendous upside. He’s an absolutely perfect fit in Bowles’ scheme and has the versatility to play all of the linebacker positions in Tampa Bay’s new defense.
ILB Is A Position Of Need
The departure of Alexander left a glaring need at the inside linebacker position. The Bucs found some temporary help with the re-signing of veteran Kevin Minter, another LSU linebacker that has played in Bowles’ scheme before, in addition to the signing of Deone Bucannon, who is also familiar with Bowles’ defense having played in it in Arizona during the 2014 season.
But Minter and Bucannon were signed to on-year deals, and the Bucs also can’t count on two other inside linebackers in Jack Cichy, who is recovering from a torn ACL, and Kendell Beckwith, who is still trying to make his way back from a serious ankle injury in the 2018 offseason that cost him all of last season. White gives the Bucs a stable presence in the middle of the defense, and considering the fact that this year’s crop of inside linebackers is rather shallow from a depth and talent standpoint, it made sense for the Bucs to address this need right out of the gate in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
White Brings Speed To Tampa Bay
One of the things that new head coach Bruce Arians and Bowles wanted to do to improve Tampa Bay’s defense was to add more speed to the unit. In an NFC South division that has speedy foes in Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, the Bucs need athletes on the field that can cover and track down those potent weapons.
White blazed a 4.42 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and is the fastest linebacker in the draft. That speed allows White to be a three-down linebacker that doesn’t have to come off the field. The 2018 Butkus Award winner earned a 90 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, and his 91.7 grade in coverage was actually higher.
In the end, the selection of White won’t be appealing to all Bucs fans, as some wanted the team to draft a defensive tackle like Houston’s Ed Oliver or a defensive edge rusher like Florida State’s Brian Burns or Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat instead of an off-the-ball linebacker. Yet if Carolina’s Pro Bowler Luke Kuechly and former legendary linebackers Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis were re-drafted today, those star ‘backers would be selected much higher than they originally went in their respective drafts.
The inside linebacker position is incredibly important for the reasons stated above, and due to the team’s switch to a 3-4 scheme, which calls for more able bodies at the linebacker position. The Bucs seemed to have found an elite player to man the middle of their defense in White.
Let the culture change begin with White leading Tampa Bay’s defense.
Watch White’s LSU highlight video and White’s interview on ESPN’s First Take below.
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