Bucs draft a linebacker help fix defense

by Gary Shelton on April 26, 2019 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Bucs think they found a gem in White.

Friday, 4 a.m.

In your mind's eye, he is Ray Lewis. Maybe Patrick Willis. Maybe Luke Kueckly.

Let your imagination run wild, and he Dick Butkus. Maybe Jack Lambert. Maybe Ray Nitchke.

He is a linebacker, a man in the middle of all the chaos, and so far, he has not missed a tackle. As of now, Devin White is the promise of a better day for the Bucs' defense, a fast, furious ball of violence waiting to attack.

Ah, but when the draft has passed, and when the platitudes are all over, what will we think of White then? Will we think that any inside

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linebacker in today's NFL deserves to be drafted as high as fifth in the draft. Will we think he is not only a replacement, but an upgrade, to Kwon Alexander. Will we think that he can finally cover a back out of the backfield, or will he just be another guy playing chase?

“You know, when I was on my top-30 visit, when I sat down with Licht, we had a heart-to-heart conversation," Licht said. "He really got to know me as a person. We really didn’t talk ball. That speaks volumes of a GM, [when] he wants to know about that.

" Then when I got into the meeting with Coach Bruce [Arians], he did the same exact thing and he was telling me how around Tampa Bay, they’re really big on children – they know I’ve got a real soft heart for kids. I was like, ‘Man, it’s just crazy – I just know.’ Then Coach Bruce told me, ‘D, you’re a hell of a player. You’re in play to be taken really, really early. If you’re there at five, then I want you on my team. I want to help develop you.’ When he said that, he was a man of his word."

The Bucs, themselves, weren't going to miss the tackle on this one. They were all over White, and to take him, they ignored that Josh Allen of Kentucky and Ed Oliver of Houston were still on the board. The Bucs said they entered this draft with White on their mind, and they weren't going to let other temptations win them over.

"We’re extremely excited about Devin (White) and have been for a long time," general manager Jason Licht said. "He is a very fast player. That is not the reason we took him alone. He is a physical guy, he can pressure with his ability to blitz. He is one of the better blitzing linebackers we have seen in a long time. He can also cover and last, but not least, he is a tremendous person, leader, very smart and you’ll feel his energy right away when you guys meet him.”

Drafting White didn't seem to be as. wild a swing as others made. The Raiders took Clelin Farrell, a player who was predicted to go a dozen or so picks later. The Giants, right after the Bucs, picked Duke quarterback Daniel Jones.

That left the Bucs with plenty of choices.

“Devin White was our guy," Licht said. "There were some good players still, but Devin White. We went through that exercise for the last however long, many weeks that if this scenario came up that we were still going to take Devin. We have talked about these guys over and over. We have watched every play they’ve ever played in college and we felt very comfortable that we made the right decision. Devin’s a linebacker, but he is also an attacking player, he’s a pressure-type linebacker. He can get to the quarterback as well.

"When you meet with him,  you'll notice his focus, his will to win. He’s a fast player. He’s a physical guy. He’s one of the better blitzing guys. There is his coverage ability. Last but not least, he's a tremendous person, a leader. Very smart. You’ll feel his energy right away."

White mentioned Willis and Lewis as role models.

“I always watched a lot of linebackers growing up, White said. "Patrick Willis is my favorite. I watched Ray Lewis as well. It’s just a blessing to be able to see those guys and see the work they put in, just to be able to say, ‘Hey, I can take this from his game,’ or, ‘He did it this way, let me do it this way.’ Those two guys are at the top of my list.”

And so the praise piles on. That's normal for the NFL draft. Every team -- even the Raiders -- is thrilled with its pick today. Those teams taht reached just shrug and say the mock drafters were wrong. Those players who fell are really, really focused now.

So was White the right pick? He was a safe pick, it seems. But remember this: There was a time the Bucs were thrilled to get Booker Reese, and Josh Freeman was going to show then, and Keith McCants was a steal, and Charles McRae was a mountain. And all of them fizzled.

Will White be different? We'll see.

"Coach Todd (Bowles) told me, ‘Devin, getting you would be like getting a new, shiny, pretty car. I’m going to use you and drive you to the fullest.’ And I’m ready for it. I’ve been put in this situation for a reason. I’m ready to show everybody that I’m the guy for the middle of that defense, alongside the other linebackers. I know they’re going to help me and they’re going to mold me into a great NFL player.”

Licht seems convinced.

“We’ve got a lot of resources at LSU from over the years taking some players, especially linebackers. We’ve got a lot of great relationships there, so we’ve been doing our vetting on him for a long time. When you meet with him, just his focus, his will to win, his plan. He’s a very thoughtful person in terms of what he’s going to do to come in here and become the starter, be the leader, be a quarterback of the defense. You talk to any of his teammates, they believe that he is the best player on their team. He’s been the unquestioned leader for two years there. I could go on and on. It’s pretty inspiring just being around him.”

But will he inspire the defense? Will he be Hardy Nickerson? Or will he be Barrett Rudd? Will he be worth his draft pick?

“We felt so," Licht said. "That’s why we took him where we did. We felt he was one of the better inside linebackers we’ve seen in a long time coming out of college. Now, I don’t want to – he’s still got to line up and play in the NFL but coming out of college. His speed, like I said, all the traits that I told you about are very exciting to watch.”

The smart thing with White? Hope for the best, but be skeptical. Make him show that he's ready. Make him prove that he can lead as a youngster.

Later on, you can cheer.

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