Devin White has received his fair share of criticism this season.
Then again, he's received so much of it that maybe it's time to start asking the question, has it really been all that fair?
The Buccaneers have struggled in 2022, no doubt about it. And as a leader of the defense, and a player with immense physical ability — not to mention the premium draft capital (5th overall) used by the team to select him in 2019 — expectations remain sky high for Devin White.
After a fine rookie season, White really burst onto the scene in year two. It was then, in 2020, when he amassed 140 total tackles and 9 sacks in 15 regular season games. White's performance that season was significant, even beyond his individual numbers.
You're probably wondering, 'how so?'.
Well, if you ask me, it was the first time that his defensive teammates really rallied around his chaos-inducing style of play. Led by White, the Bucs' defense didn't just rise to the occasion, they dominated a murderer's row of all-world quarterbacks in the playoffs en route to winning Super Bowl LV.
During that improbable post-season run, White was nothing short of spectacular. In the three post-season games he played (he missed the wild-card game vs. Washington due to Covid protocols), White tallied 38 total tackles (27 solo), 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 interceptions.
And in what was just his second season in the NFL, and his first post-season experience, Devin White was undeniably the most valuable defensive player on a Super Bowl Championship-winning team.
To be clear, this trip down memory lane serves a purpose. And that purpose is to provide some context regarding why Devin White is held to such a high standard today.
Because the fact is, we haven't seen that 2020 version of Devin White since... well, 2020.
Starting last season, White began to play out of control and without discipline far too often. These issues were only magnified when combined with his poor performance in pass coverage — which is a crucial aspect of playing the linebacker position in this era.
It's easy to understand why these challenges could arise for a player like White, especially when you consider the incredible speed he possesses, in addition to his physical strength and power. Throw in his highly aggressive, alpha-dog mentality, and it becomes that much more challenging for him to harness his incredible physical gifts.
But that's part of his job.
Devin White needs to strike a balance between playing like a bat-out-of-hell, and playing like a disciplined Jedi who carefully surveys the offense before picking his spots to attack. Luckily for White, there's no one who plays the position with a better understanding of that balance than his partner in the middle of the Bucs' defense, Lavonte David.
And to be clear, Devin White would be wise to utilize the limited time he has left to learn from one of the greatest linebackers in franchise history, while they're still together.
In 2022, despite winning NFC defensive player of the month for September, White has come under fire for many of the same issues that plagued him last season. Getting burned in coverage, over-pursuing ball carriers, struggling to shed blockers, and even a general lack of effort are just some of the things that White has been scrutinized for as of late.
So with the team struggling, and White being heavily criticized in the media, things have undoubtedly been a bit dark for Devin White lately. Unfortunately, they recently became much, much darker.
While the Buccaneers were on the team bus headed for the airport to depart for Munich, Germany, last week, White received word that his 45-year-old father, Carlos Thomas, had passed away.
It was an unexpected blow that I could only imagine shocked his entire world. The death of a parent, especially without any sort of warning, is a horrifying, and tragic situation for anyone to experience.
White's father, Carlos, was incarcerated in the family's home state of Louisiana at the time of his death. It was reported that he began to experience severe back pain, and became unresponsive while being transported to a medical facility nearby. Despite life-saving efforts from the medical staff at the facility, they were unable to revive him.
Despite a very heavy heart, Devin White still made the trip to Germany with his teammates. Not only that, but he put together a masterful individual performance. One that had a significant impact on the Buccaneers' ability to grind out a crucial team victory.
White finished the game with 9 tackles, 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and a massive pass breakup on a 2-point conversion attempt, all of which helped the Bucs prevail over an impressive, and NFC West-leading, Seattle Seahawks team.
It was a truly impressive performance. A complete game by Devin White. A game where he balanced his physical ability, and aggression, with the patience required to properly survey the offense, and attack his assignment with calculated precision.
Afterward, White spoke about the game, and the challenges he faced leading up to it.
“It was very hard to play. Just a lot of emotions. But I tried to turn them into good emotions and just keep a great spirit. That's just the relationship we had. You know, just all about ball. All about just going out there to be the best."
He also talked about how he was able to harness his emotions in order to focus on the task at hand.
"It was just like, this one's for you. I just felt like I was going to come out and have a good game. I had a great week of preparation. And then, getting ready to get on the plane, to get a call like that, it just seems unreal but at the end of the day I knew I had a job to do... So I just put my head down, and kept going forward."
You can watch White's post-game press conference, in it's entirety, here.
In light of all that's happened this past week, I am deeply heartbroken for Devin White the person and his family, but I'm extremely happy for Devin White, the football player.
He's faced a number of challenges recently, but none greater than having to deal with the sudden death of his father. Based on his performance on the field this past Sunday, and his comments afterward, it's obvious that to Devin White, football — just like his father — has had a huge role in shaping his identity as a person.
Although Devin White may not the perfect football player, he's incredibly effective when he puts it all together. I'm not confident that he'll always put it together like he did this past Sunday, which means he won't always be glorified in the media, or appreciated by fans.
But there's one thing I know for sure, and that is that Devin White cares deeply about the sport of football and the success of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And for that, he should always be respected.
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