Say this for Devin White: He doesn't waste his time thinking small.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second-year linebacker has lofty expectations for his own performance in 2020, and that includes a target for the number of interceptions he'd like to snag.
"I just know that five, that's the least that I can get," said White. "I gotta get my hands on some balls, because I'm in man coverage a lot. When I'm in zone I just have to find the ball. I've always got a knack for fumbles and fumble recoveries but growing up, picks have never really been my thing, so I'm going to try to make it my thing. I'm hitting the Jugs [machine] every day after practice – and catching is not a problem. It's just overplaying the quarterback and jumping routes and being a faster, smarter football player."
There wasn't a single big inspiration for his target of five picks, but rather a number of small ones that just made it seem right. And it applies to another statistical goal of his, too.
"I don't know, I just came up with five," said White. "I was the number-five pick [in the 2019 draft] so it's a great number. Forty-five, the end of my jersey number. I see a lot of fives out there, so something good about that number stands out. Five picks or five sacks, I'll take either one…or both at the same time. I know turnovers are going to be huge for us. We're really putting a big emphasis on it this year."
If White can hit his five-pick minimum this year, he would have something in common with his star running mate, Lavonte David. Davis is the most recent Buccaneers linebacker to snare five or more interceptions in a season, having done it in his All-Pro 2013 campaign. That made him the third Tampa Bay linebacker to achieve that feat, following Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks in his 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year campaign and Cecil Johnson in 1981. David also had seven sacks that year, so he's also accomplished the five-five idea White came around to above.
View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
And even though those five-pick seasons by linebackers have been relatively scarce in team history, that doesn't mean we should dismiss White's goal as unattainable or statistically improbable. The Buccaneers made White a rare top-five draft pick for an off-ball linebacker in 2019 because they were captivated by his entire, well-rounded skill set. In addition to being very fast and a good tackler, he also can rush the passer and has strong coverage skills. He did have one pick and three passes defensed in approximately 12 games as a rookie, and he's better prepared in 2020 to diagnose what opposing quarterbacks are trying to do.
White turned the corner in that regard in the second half of last season, during which he was named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Month in both November and December. It also helped that he eventually was able to shed the knee brace he wore after returning from his MCL injury.
"He had a great understanding of what he was doing," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "He was playing extremely fast, obviously making a bunch of splash plays with the fumble recoveries, the touchdowns, interceptions, the things he's capable of doing. I thought he ran the show very well and did a heck of a job of tackling better the second half of the season than he did in the first. The knee brace was really hard for him to play with, and once he got that off, we saw what we were looking for."
Linebackers registering five interceptions in a season isn't all that rare in the NFL. David was one of two to do it in 2013, along with Detroit's DeAndre Levy, who had six. The Cowboys' Bruce Carter did it in 2014, followed by Philadelphia's Jordan Hicks in 2016, the Giants' Alec Ogletree in 2018 and the Colts' Darius Leonard last year. The Buccaneers would love to see White emerge as a young all-around playmaker like Leonard, who in just two seasons already has 12 sacks, seven picks, an All-Pro selection and a Pro Bowl trip.
That may be possible, too. Because of his better grasp on the defense, White can let his instincts take over and play fast. Apparently, very fast. Again, White was not shy when estimating what he may be capable in 2020.
"I think for me I can play 10 times faster than what I did last year," he said. "One, because I don't have that brace on and two because I knew the scheme last year, but me knowing the scheme now and knowing where my hip is, who I'm using in the run game, whether it's Lavonte or the down safety or even if we're spilling it back to the corner. I'm knowing more and more now with just the Zoom meetings we were having in the offseason, and this just being my only focus. I'm good. And then it's the same plays, and the new plays [Todd Bowles] put in, they're built off the last year's plays, so I don't have a new playbook in front of me. Everything's just moving just fine for me."
We already know that White is fast. On his team-record 91-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Atlanta in Week 17 he reached a top speed of 21.44 miles per hour, the fourth-fastest speed recorded by any NFL linebacker last year. White also hit 21.89 MPH at one point during the Bucs' Week Nine game at Seattle, giving him two of the six instances in which an NFL linebacker topped 21 MPH in 2019.
Rookie linebacker Chapelle Russell didn't need those numbers to realize he was watching a pair of accomplished inside linebackers in practice in White and David.
"Man, [those] boys are fast," said Russell, a seventh-round pick out of Temple. "Just watching them from the sideline you can just tell that veteran presence that they have being on the field – how fast they key and how fast they move and how efficient they are on the field. That's what I pay attention to when I'm watching film – the way they move and how fast they're keying things. Once they know what they've got to do, they're doing it full speed. I'm learning from them and I'm going to pick it up day by day [and] hopefully get on their level."
When it comes down to it, White has goals that are even bigger than five picks or 10x speed amplification, and they are inspired by David. David recently came in at 100 in this year's NFL Top 100 players, and like many White felt that was too low. But David is much more concerned about where his team will rank at the end of this year, and so is White.
"The guys has a winning mentality and hasn't made the playoffs yet," said White. "It's bigger goals for us, even that Top 100. I was more mad than he was, but at the end of the day he said that's not his main focus. His main focus is winning the division, getting to the playoffs and winning the whole thing. As long as we just keep that mindset and don't worry about the outside distractions, such as little stuff like that, I think everything will take care of itself, especially for him, myself and the linebacker room."