DE Dewayne White made an instant impact at defensive tackle, sacking QB Jonathan Quinn on Chicago's first third-down play
The distinct smell of pumpkin guts filled the air.
A nose, a mouth, a pair of eyes took shape. In no time, maybe 20 minutes after Dewayne White first took his knife to the hollowed-out pumpkin, the finished product was on display.
It was the first time White, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second-year defensive end, had ever carved a jack-o-lantern. He had no problem on that afternoon at The Children's Home almost two weeks ago.
Carving out a niche in the vaunted Buccaneer defense has not come as easily. For White, a second-round draft pick in 2003, the path to playing time has taken plenty of hard work and patience. That patience may be paying off now, even if it took an unfortunate turn of events to put him into the front-four rotation. A recent season-ending injury to fellow defensive lineman Ellis Wyms put the Bucs in need of another interior lineman, and White has taken full advantage by showing off a newfound versatility.
"I'm glad to be on the field," said White, after serving as a substitute defensive tackle in passing downs against the Chicago Bears on October 24. "Contributing to the defense is something that I want to do. I just wanted to play – it didn't matter where. I got a couple pressures and a sack and helped the team out a lot. Normally I just play every two or three snaps, but now I'm getting more comfortable and into more of a rhythm."
In most games, White serves as a backup at defensive end; however, right end Simeon Rice rarely takes a play off and left end Greg Spires comes out only a bit less infrequently. Against the Bears, White made his presence felt early and often by playing defensive tackle behind starters Anthony McFarland and Chartric Darby. On the first third down of the Bears' first possession, White sacked quarterback Jonathan Quinn, forcing a punt. White went on to add several more quarterback pressures, along with a solo tackles and two passes defensed.
White is a talented defensive end, but he had yet to make his mark at that spot in a season and a half. However, if he can fill the same sort of end/tackle swingman role that Wyms did, he will suddenly become a more valuable commodity for the Bucs. And moving inside hasn't proved to be as difficult for White as one might expect. For him, success at either position is based on one premise – getting to the passer.
"I'm a pass rusher," said White. "You've got to know how to rush. You've got to be quicker, a lot quicker on the inside. The linemen are right there in your face, you're not sitting back a ways from them. Otherwise, it comes down to will and want-to."
White has always had those things. At Louisville, he set school records with 37.5 sacks and 56.5 tackles for loss in 38 games. White's strong play of late indicates that his knowledge and preparation have begun to equal his talent and desire
Prior to training camp this past summer, Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli had a feeling that White would break out in 2004. Based on White's dedication in the offseason, Marinelli thought that he could "explode onto the scene." After the Chicago game, it looks as though Marinelli was on to something.
The Bucs could use another strong outing inside from White against Kansas City, which is sure to test the middle of Tampa Bay's defense with running back Priest Holmes. White would most likely play on passing downs again, but the rest his substitution would give to McFarland and Darby will help those two take on Holmes and the Chiefs' powerful offensive line. The Bucs also signed defensive tackle Jon Bradley off their practice squad on Saturday, but Bradley is a rookie who has never played a down in an NFL regular season.
White knows that he and his linemates have their work cut out for them against Kansas City's respected O-line. However, they have confidence in their ability to match the intensity and technique of their opponents in the trenches.
"Kansas City has a great O-line," said White. "We just have to be disciplined – they have very good technique, so in return we have to have good technique and be disciplined. That is our main objective – we can't try to do too much."
Unlike the pumpkin he carved two weeks ago, White is still a work in progress. If he can continue to turn heads with his play on the practice field and on Sundays, White will assuredly carve himself a definitive role in the Tampa Bay defense.