"This is probably the most mature group of rookies I've ever been around in my 20-some years in the NFL," Head Coach Bruce Arians said on Thursday. "These guys are serious men coming to work."
The rookies, along with the rest of the team, came to work on Thursday as veterans reported for training camp to a rain-soaked AdventHealth Training Center. There was a buzz in the building reminiscent of the first day of school, showing off new outfits and recalling memories of summer vacations taken.
View pictures of the Buccaneers arriving for 2019 Training Camp.
The rookies had reported officially this past Sunday and therefore had a few days under their belt. They were also working alongside the quarterbacks, Jameis Winston included, during 'Quarterback School' Monday through Wednesday. It's allowed Winston even more exposure to his first-year teammates and the maturity of the young group hasn't gone unnoticed by the now-fifth-year veteran.
"I just see hunger and when you see hunger and not complacency from a rookie class, you've got a good thing," Winston said. "Those guys are coming in willing to work and it heads with Devin White. The guy is a hard worker and he's a great leader, so they're gonna follow his footsteps. There's no age limit on leadership."
Rookie linebacker Devin White was the team's first-round pick, taken fifth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft out of LSU. He was widely regarded as the best linebacker in the draft class and not just for his playmaking ability on the field. It's no accident White, and the rest of the rookie class, is being praised for their maturity level. It was a point of emphasis for General Manager Jason Licht and the Bucs' personnel staff. They worked to strike a balance between what pieces were needed from a coaching perspective while also getting good-character players.
"I think the coaching staff did a great job of hand-picking the players they wanted and looking for that certain trait [of maturity]," White said. "When we sit around and talk about how important it's going to be for us to play this year, you know you have to grow up early."
White leads the way in that, too. He was touted as a leader in college and was named a permanent captain at LSU as early as his sophomore year. It was the same year he won Team MVP and is touted by the Tigers' athletic website as 'one of the best players to ever play at LSU.' His collegiate career and how well he's done this offseason have factored into why the Bucs' current coaching staff has so much confidence in a 21-year-old rookie leading the defense.
"That was a big part of the evaluation process of how mature he was and the accolades from coaches that we really trust that were around him every day," Arians said. "You hear Ed [Orgeron] now talk about how [LSU] can't replace him. So, the sky's the limit. Right now he can do everything so until he says, 'Whoa, I can't learn all this stuff' or 'I can't do that' but I don't think that's ever coming out of his mouth though, knowing him."
"I've always been in big roles in my life," White shrugged when asked about the responsibility and pressure he's been thrust into during his first year in the league. "Everything I did, I probably grew up faster than maybe I should have but I think it helped me. You know, I always had a lot of pressure on me and I always did good with it."
Arians put the pressure on White right away, too. Immediately following rookie minicamp, Arians told White that he would be wearing the green dot on his helmet – meaning he would be the one calling the defense. The green dot indicated, as White himself found out, that he was equipped with a headset with a direct line to Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles. It was at that point that White understood the amount of responsibility placed on his shoulders as the 'quarterback of the defense.'
"I felt great at OTAs and minicamp with the vets. I was out there calling the defense and flying around making plays but I give all the credit to [Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles] because that's a great defense and it just lets everybody, not just me, but everybody on the defense be themselves. The only thing you have to do is play fast."
Rest assured, he's not shying away from the pressure either. Equipped with what he calls a great coaching staff, White doesn't feel like there is anything too big for him and understands that not only does he need to understand the defense himself, he needs to understand it for all the guys around him.
"It all comes with being a leader," White said. "Everything starts with me, it starts in the middle. I'm a guy that I embrace it. If you're not making plays, no one is going to follow you. I can do all the talking and everything but when we get on that field and we strap up, they know 45 is going to be making plays because that's what I do, that's a natural thing for me. I feel like as long as I do it within the system, everyone will respect me. That's the thing I have to keep doing is gaining everybody's respect and trust and just let them know that I'm all in."