The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 2-0 while Devin White was on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including the team's first postseason victory since Super Bowl XXXVII. Veteran Kevin Minter filled in quite well for White in those two games, contributing 15 tackles and two passes defensed, with a tipped ball that resulted in Sean Murphy-Bunting's interception in the Wild Card win at Washington.
All of that said, the Buccaneers are thrilled to be getting White back into his usual spot at the heart of their defense as they try to prolong their 2020 playoff run. White and defensive lineman Steve McLendon were activated from the COVID list on Monday and will be able to begin practicing with the team on Wednesday.
"First, let me say how [well] Kevin Minter played in those two ballgames," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "He was outstanding, did a great job, tipped that ball and we got an interception. But he's not Devin. Bringing Devin's passion, his energy [and] his speed – hopefully he can get after the quarterback some like he's been doing so well. You're bringing back one of the top players in the league."
White was named a second-team Associated Press All-Pro last week, along with his inside linebacker running mate Lavonte David, and in just his second season he's emerged as one of the NFL's most impactful defenders. His 140 tackles and 9.0 sacks this season are a rare combination, as pure pass-rushers don't usually rack up triple-digit tackles and non-edge rushers don't usually approach double digits in sacks. The last player before White to reach both of those totals in a single season was the Buccaneers' own Broderick Thomas in 1991.
The return of White and McLendon give the Buccaneers a better chance to slow down Drew Brees and a Saints offense that scored 72 points on them in two games during the regular season. New Orleans had reinforcements of its own lately, with Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas returning from the COVID list and injured reserve, respectively.
White racked up those nine sacks primarily on lightning-quick delayed blitzes up the middle. That type of play could make a big difference in slowing down Brees, who is very difficult to sack behind an outstanding Saints offensive line.
"You would hope so," said Arians of White's potential impact. "But again, the ball comes out of his hand so quickly – it's hard. You can get your hands up and maybe bat some balls around, but I thought the Bears did a really good job of containing him other than that first drive where they played all that zone. They've got so many weapons and he knows where that ball is going by the time that back foot hits, so if you're going to get to him, you'd better get in there free."
While White is a welcome addition on defense, the Buccaneers will be down a strong performer in the Divisional Round. Right guard Alex Cappa left Saturday night's game in the second half with an apparent ankle injury, and Arians confirmed that it was serious enough to knock him out of action.
"Alex has a fracture, so he'll be out," said Arians. "Aaron Stinnie will start. He's done a good job for us, so he's more than ready to play."
When Cappa left the game on Saturday he was replaced by versatile veteran Ted Larsen, who had been elevated from the practice squad for that game. It was likely that versatility for Larsen that led the coaches to keep him active for the game while declaring Stinnie inactive. With a week to prepare for Sunday's game in New Orleans, the Buccaneers will turn to Stinnie, who has been with the Buccaneers since November of 2019 but who will be making his first NFL start, regular season or postseason.
Stinnie and his teammates had an extra day of rest on Sunday after returning from Washington, and will now follow a normal practice-week schedule with their next game slated for Sunday. The players will hold virtual meetings with their coaches on Monday, get another day off on Tuesday and get back to work on Wednesday. The intensity level at the AdventHealth Training Center is likely to be high for a much-anticipated rematch with the Saints, particularly with the vocal White back in the mix.
"I think they're really, really looking forward to it," said Arians. "Our guys are ready to play anybody, anywhere [on Sunday] night – that's for sure. We all kind of had a feeling we knew where we were going, so it was just get yourselves rested up. This extra day is going to help, so get rested up because you know it's going to be a physical, physical battle."