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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Devin White Chasing "Best Linebacker" Status Alongside Lavonte David 

Buccaneers inside linebacker Devin White details his prioritized area of growth this offseason, fortifying his case of becoming the “face of the position” alongside teammate Lavonte David


Training camp is in full swing and with it, annual evaluations commence. Players across the NFL landscape often vocalize aspirations for the upcoming year through self-reflection. Whether a quantifiable metric or refining a specific element of one's craft, players solidify their target goal. For Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Devin White, he has made an offseason declaration and it involves his middle-mate and partner in crime, Lavonte David.

"I want to be a complete overall linebacker," White described. "I want it to be, 'He is the best linebacker' and not just as a 'blitzing linebacker.' I have a lot of work to do but I am willing to do it. I want to hone in on everything that I don't do good because that is the title that I want. Right now, there are two guys that have the title and I think me and Lavonte, we are not too far but Fred Warner and Roquan [Smith], they set the bar pretty high last year and I know work needs to be done, but I am willing to do it. I told Lavonte, 'We are going to push each other.' We always need to be the guys when they talk about the players that are the two best linebackers in the league. We are fighting for one and two or 1A and 1B. That is just my mindset. I can put it out there."

In the league, Fred Warner and Roquan Smith set the standard and White wants himself and Lavonte David to be mentioned in the same prestigious breath as the aforementioned names. Warner, the 49ers' stalwart, has established himself as one of the game's best off-ball linebackers, earning First Team All-Pro honors after finishing with 130 tackles, 10 passes defensed, an interception and two sacks last season. He is one of two players to record 115-plus tackles in each of the past five seasons (Bobby Wagner is the other). Warner was the only player to accumulate 130 tackles and 10 passes defensed last season and the first player to accomplish the feat since Luke Kuechly in 2019. Not many linebackers in the NFL have the range to line up at the line of scrimmage to blitz and check out of it in order to outpace a rusher to the sideline, however, Warner frequently accomplishes the task to the awe of onlookers. Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans utilizes Warner's coverage ability to disrupt passing windows. He is the focal point of San Francisco's blitz packages as the fifth rusher and is lethal through the A-gap, overwhelming offenses around the league with his closing burst.

Roquan Smith made an immediate impact in the Ravens defense last season after Baltimore acquired him prior to the trade deadline, concluding the year with 169 tackles, 4.5 sacks, three interceptions and six passes defended with the Ravens and Bears. Smith and Patrick Willis are the only players to have 150-plus tackles, four-plus sacks and three-plus interceptions in a season and Smith is one of three players with at least 300 tackles, three interceptions and 10 sacks since entering the league in 2020. Smith is explosive in space with relentless pursuit of the ball. He is lethal when shooting gaps and is able to find the ball when navigating through traffic on zone reads and jet sweeps.

The Buccaneers know a thing, or two about stellar linebacker play, and White is vying to entrench his place atop the hierarchy alongside David, becoming the face of the position group.

White and David played 95% of the Bucs' defensive snaps last season, with David recording 1075 snaps and White, 1076. Last season, White had the most quarterback hits with 16 and David had the most tackles for loss with 10. The duo set the tone on defense for Tampa Bay, patrolling the second level.

The Bucs re-signed David in March, the club's longest-tenured player. He is back for his 12th season in Tampa Bay. David, a former second-round draft pick (2012) out of Nebraska, has evolved with the ever-changing league. As the NFL shifted from a run-first philosophy to a pass-centric script, David adapted. David accumulated 124 combined tackles, 10 tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and five passes defensed in 2022. He is known for blowing up screens and covering tight ends over the middle of the field, erasing the opposition's zone-buster. In 2022, David's 88.5 coverage grade per PFF ranked second among off-ball linebackers. For David, it was his sixth straight season with overall grades and coverage grades above 70.0 last season. His 88.0 coverage grade in 2022 was the second-highest mark of his long career. The three-down linebacker is a textbook tackler and can fluidly flip his hips to run with tight ends/running backs.

White, one of Bucs' primary blitzers, tallied five passes defensed (career-high), two forced fumbles, 5.5 sacks, 124 combined tackles, eight tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits last season. With rare closing speed/downhill range, White has become a focal point of Todd Bowles' pressure packages, collapsing the pocket through the A and B-gap. Opposing teams have to account for White pressuring the quarterback, which can generate opportunities for teammates on disguised looks. The LSU product has a quick-twitch trigger and has the agility to track rushers from gap to gap. Entering his fifth year in Tampa Bay, White will strive to make his mark on the gridiron as a complete package. Throughout the offseason, White has emphasized dropping into coverage, refining his technique and leveraging angles in zone. During training camp, White has routinely been lined up against second-year back, Rachaad White to foster development.

"Some things I have improved on that I am very happy with are my zone drops, just being a great vision player and taking the right angles, getting a lot of pass breakups, and getting my hands on ball and being around the ball even more," White emphasized. "We have always been so locked in as a man-pressure team and I am locked in on the back with whoever it is now. We have been switching it up and coming from all angles, so now I am just getting that repetition. You always want to be better at everything."

With more of the NFL shifting to a dink and dunk game to generate yards after catch, exploiting a two-high shell coverage, it is important for linebackers to effectively take away the short passing game over the middle of the field. When playing in zone, White has to recognize the pass concept, go to his zone, get as deep as possible before the quarterback throws the ball, narrow the focus on the quarterback/ball and quickly react to the pass. As White continues to enhance his game, he will reach another level on the gridiron in 2023, solidifying his case atop the upper echelon at the position.

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