DE Dewayne White started at San Francisco but more often provides a spark off the bench
Dewayne White had to wait 15 snaps to get into last Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers. At that point, he figured there was no time to waste.
White, the third end in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive line rotation, first entered the Carolina game 18 seconds into the second quarter, just after Chris Simms had hit Joey Galloway with a 50-yard touchdown bomb. The Bucs had fallen behind 10-0 in the first quarter but Galloway's score had pulled them back into the game. A defensive stand would keep the momentum on Tampa Bay's sideline, maybe set up a go-ahead score.
White obliged. He had watched the first quarter while starting ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires had played every snap. Now he came in for Spires on the left edge of the line and confronted Panthers right tackle Jordan Gross. On first down from the Carolina 27, White shot right around Gross and sacked quarterback Jake Delhomme at the end of his drop for a loss of six.
On the next play, White again pressured Delhomme from his right, and defensive tackle Chris Hovan came free up the middle to bat Delhomme's hurried throw away. On third-and-16, White drifted towards the middle of the battle at the line and made a leaping breakup of another Delhomme pass. Defensive mission accomplished and the Bucs had the ball back at their own 32 after the punt.
Tampa Bay wouldn't rally, as it turned out, but White had done his part at the key moment. He had provided the spark the Bucs needed. That's his job.
"That was my first series into the game," he said. "I try to bring some energy when I get in there.
When I got into that game, I just went after it. The first play, I got a sack, then the next thing you know, they're on their heels. They lost some yardage and they have to change their plays. Then there's a batted-down pass and 'Oh, no,' and it's just growing."
White's role has grown, too, over his three seasons in Tampa Bay, though it is necessarily constrained at the moment because of the presence of Rice and Spires. Rice is clearly one of the best pure pass-rushers in the game, working on his fifth straight double-digit sack season and seventh overall. Spires is the once unheralded grinder who has become recognized for the all-around defensive force that he is. There's no reason why the Buccaneers wouldn't want those two on the field for any given play.
But then, there's no reason they'd want to keep White off it, either. In fact, when a string of injuries hit the Bucs' interior line positions last year, it was White who was pressed into service as a defensive tackle. Later, Spires moved inside and White became the starting left end for about a month. It was an effort, during a tough time, to get the team's best players on the field.
That's tougher when everyone in that unit is healthy, and that's why White is admittedly seeing less playing time than he would like. But he understands the strength of his position and doesn't let his desire for more playing time affect his preparation or his actions on the field.
"There are roles that we accept throughout the season," he said. "That doesn't mean I have to be happy with just having that role. I know the role I have to do right now and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability for the betterment of the team."
The situation does affect how he can assess his own play. When it's eight to 10 plays one game and 20 or 30 the next, he simply has to satisfy himself with making the most of whatever he is afforded.
Like every position coach in the NFL, Buccaneers Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli breaks down video of his players' performances after each game and provides an assessment of those performances the following morning. There are hundreds of different ways coaches grade their players, but it's all the same basic concept. Marinelli's system, to put it simply, counts total snaps and snaps on which the player was a factor. The higher the percentage of the second to the first, the better the grade. It's all converted into a traditional school grading system, with As, B-minuses, Cs, etc.
White may not have enough time in any particular game to get 10 tackles and three sacks, but he can always work on grading out well.
"I'm happy with the way I'm playing," he said. "It's hard for me to say how many plays I get every game. I might just get nine plays, and I really can't expect to get a sack in nine plays every time. I just try to get a good grade in that measuring chart every time out."
That doesn't mean he plays without specific statistical goals. No matter what his playing time is, White focuses on getting a sack a game. It's a good goal, one that would put him among the league's elite ends if it were realized. White reached his goal on his very first play against Carolina – and eventually finished with three tackles to go with that sack and pass defensed – but it may take a starting role before he can prove his sack-a-game pace.
"That's my goal, though," he said. "I feel like I can do that every game. I want to get a lot of sacks."
Whether or not he meets his own per-game goals this year, White has lived up to the Bucs' expectations. The last pick of the second round in 2003, he played relatively sparingly as a rookie, recording nine tackles and no sacks. His role expanded greatly last year, particularly when he became the jury-rigged solution in the middle, and he produced 29 tackles and six sacks, good for third on the team behind Rice and Spires.
This year, he's an absolutely invaluable member of the Bucs' rotation, and he gave the team a strong starting option in San Francisco when Rice was deactivated. He already has 17 tackles, two sacks, a fumble recovery and two passes defensed, and he gets in more special teams action than anybody else in his crew. White even has four kick-coverage tackles, an indication of how quickly he can get his 275 pounds moving.
He's moving forward, pursuing his team and career goals as quickly and immediately as he went after Delhomme when he got into last Sunday's game. That's all anybody can ask for right now.
"I'm on the field, I'm getting better every year," said White. "I'm making strides, improving every part of what I do. Each week, I'm just trying to go out and make more plays, find more ways to help the team."