The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must have felt as if they dodged a bullet when defensive lineman Vita Vea, their first-round draft pick in 2018, started the 2019 season opener just a month after he went down in training camp with a knee injury. Vea avoided surgery and recovered from a sprained LCL ligament quickly enough to step back into the defense without missing a beat.
They're may be similar sighs of relief at the AdventHealth Training Center on Friday as it appears the Buccaneers have once again channeled their inner Neo to dodge a second bullet. This time it's their 2019 first-round draft pick, inside linebacker Devin White, who went down with a knee injury just six plays into Tampa Bay's 20-14 win at Carolina on Thursday night. Head Coach Bruce Arians delivered the preliminary good news on Friday afternoon.
"So far, it looks like a grade-one…MCL [sprain], so it'll be day-to-day," said Arians. "As strong as he is, I don't know how much time he'll miss."
'Day-to-day' is obviously a very positive description of an injury that, if more severe, could have been season-ending. But it is also not completely specific, and the prognosis will probably tighten up in the days to come. After the initial examinations of Vea's knee in early August there was some concern that he would miss the first few weeks of the season, as he did as a rookie in 2018, but Arians held out hope that the big lineman would be ready for Week One. And he was. White could possibly miss a game or two, but he does have the advantage of a long weekend of rest after a Thursday game, and he's off to a good start.
"Knowing him, [he] could possibly be back, but he's walking without a brace right now, so [we'll] keep our fingers crossed," said Arians.
Though he's only two games into his NFL career, White is a key part of the Bucs' defense, the play-caller when he's on the field and a potential big-play maker next to Lavonte David. However, the Buccaneers' defense didn't buckle after his departure, eventually holding the Panthers without a touchdown and do-everything dynamo Christian McCaffrey to 53 yards from scrimmage. Veteran linebacker Kevin Minter was instrumental in keeping the defense solid, stepping in for White and recording eight tackles and a quarterback hit. Minter also had an interception overturned on a penalty away from the play.
Minter and fellow reserve inside linebacker Deone Bucannon both have experience in Todd Bowles' defense from their days together with the Arizona Cardinals. Bucannon previously filled in for David when the latter linebacker was out for much of the preseason with his own knee injury. The Bucs don't want to be without White for long but they feel like they've got the depth to handle his absence with those two seasoned veterans and the promising young Jack Cichy.
"He's the ultimate pro," said Arians of Minter. "Playing special teams – and even after he played every single snap on defense [he said], 'I'm not coming off special teams. I'm still staying out here.' Deone Bucannon's the same guy; he did it for Lavonte when Lavonte was down. That inside linebacker depth – Jack came in and made a nice play in that goal-line stuff – it's a good room, a really good room."
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 2 matchup against Carolina.