After playing mostly right end in 1999 and 2000, sixth-year DE Steve White is again working on both sides this year
On a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line stocked with outsized personalities, Steve White comes off as the Thinker: intelligent, contemplative, quiet. Indeed, he is considered one of the Bucs' more cerebral players, and now, just weeks before the team's 2001 training camp, he's applied his mind to the variables of the Bucs' D-line.
Chidi Ahanotu, and his 859 snaps from 2000 are gone; Simeon Rice and his pure speed rush is in. Marcus Jones is giving up his right-left, end-switching ways. White's ankle is healthy. There may be more snaps out there for someone looking to seize them.
In the end, though, the conclusion White reaches leads him to exercise his body, not his brain. Some players are scattering for a last break before camp, but White is at One Buccaneer Place every morning, building and toning his frame. There really isn't much point in contemplating the variables when only one is under his control.
"I don't concern myself very much with anything other than what I can do," said White after another weight room session. "Right now, my biggest thing is being in the best shape that I can be and being flexible enough to play both sides, so I can get playing time at left and right end.
"We signed Simeon in the offseason so, of course, they have him penciled in as number one, but the competition's still open and I feel good about my chances. Whatever happens in training camp happens, and however it plays out, I think we'll have a very good nucleus for a defensive line."
Especially with a super conductor like Rod Marinelli leading the arrangement. Whether it was Jones' fabulously successful switch from the tackle to end, Tyoka Jackson's growth as a dependable inside-outside sub or Anthony McFarland's development in the nose tackle slot, Marinelli has helped make the Bucs' D-line positional decisions work. Next you'll see Jones switching exclusively to the left end and White moving into more of the 'swingman' role that Jones filled the last two years. White, once considered a linebacker candidate by the Philadelphia Eagles, believes this could be his most productive role yet.
"It's something I've done in the past and something I feel good about," he said. "I've worked there this offseason and I feel real comfortable doing it.
"I'm kind of a different type of left end. Most of those guys are big like Marcus, strong and overpowering guys. I'm more of a quick, shifty guy, so I would give a right tackle a different look. So I feel good about my chances and I still feel great about my chances at right end. I'm a flexible guy that can do a lot of things and I think I bring a lot to the table."
Though he has played almost exclusively on the right side the past two seasons – right end starter Jones would switch to the left side to give Ahanotu a break – he's not unfamiliar with the 'left hand' side. When Ahanotu suffered a season-ending shoulder injury early in 1998, pushing Tyoka Jackson into the usual starting lineup at left end, White became the primary backup on both sides. As he became more comfortable in the role, White began to produce more noticeably in the season's final two months, paralleling a run of victories by the Buccaneers.
Against Pittsburgh on December 13, White came on to record two sacks, one each of Kordell Stewart and Mike Tomczak, the latter causing a fumble that led to a Buccaneer touchdown. Tampa Bay won, 16-3. In the final seven games, White recorded 13 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and four passes defensed.
Though there were no stats to record, the offseason that followed continued White's rapid rise. As camp ended in August, White was the surprise choice to start at right defensive end, making former starter Regan Upshaw expendable for a trade.
Unfortunately, the two seasons that followed have been a mixture of productive periods mostly overwhelmed by injuries. He has suffered through significant sprains to both ankles, giving him very little chance to defend his starting role. Still, when healthy, White has proven he can be productive, most notably during the 1999 playoffs and last year in September and October.
He would, of course, welcome a return to the starting lineup, but it seems likely that Rice and Jones will occupy those spots when camp begins. As the number-three end last year, White was still on the field for 45% of the team's defensive plays despite missing one entire game due to injury.
"You always want to have 'starter' beside your name, because it seems like everyone focuses more on you when you're a starter," said White. "But, in truth, I played quite a lot of snaps last year. I do get a lot of run, I have in the past and I plan on doing the same this year. What it comes down to is making the most of the opportunity that you do have. I can go out there and play 30 snaps a game as a backup and not doing anything, and it really wouldn't matter. Or I could play 15 snaps and have three pressures and a sack. It's all about doing well with what you're given."
So, to that end, White is working hard from March through July to be ready for that August opportunity. In addition to his much improved health (he had a groin strain entering the voluntary summer workouts but was able to practice through it), the sixth-year player feels better about the state of his skills than ever before.
"I really feel like, right now, I'm doing everything well, whereas in years past I felt like I needed to work on some things," said White. "I feel good about my hands, my quickness, my pre-snap plans and just knowing what the whole defense is about.
"I feel good about everything in my game. I'm a tactician, a details guy. When I'm supposed to be somewhere, you can count on me being there. I play the run, I play the pass, and this offseason I've worked a lot more on my pass-rush abilities. I've got a couple more moves down a little better, and the coaches have commented that I look better on the pass rush. So I believe I can compete on the right or left side. I feel great now. I'm in shape and I'm healthy for the first time in a while. I can't wait for training camp."
That is hard to imagine, considering camp consists of three weeks of two-a-day practices under Tampa's brutal August sun. White's eagerness, however, is obviously real. He has entered previous training camps in so many different situations – as a convert to linebacker, as a free agent long shot, in a battle for a starting spot, as a starter, etc. – that this year's straightforward scenario is probably comforting. The variables could be lining up just right for White this summer.
"Every year, you should want that year to be your best year," he said. "I really think this will be a breakout year for me."