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The thing about it is this: There is usually only one of them.
One of them patrolling and controlling the middle of the field. One of them as the point man for the entire defense. Most teams try to find one of them and feel fortunate when they do.
The Buccaneers are not most teams. They have two of them, a dynamic duo of veteran Lavonte David and youngster Devin White, stationed at inside linebacker, hunting down ball-carriers. In order to slow down Patrick Mahomes and the mighty Chiefs offense on Sunday in Super Bowl 2021, the Buccaneers’ defense is going to have to come up with an inspired performance. That means the two-headed monster at the heart of it all is going to have to once again prove two is better than one.
“You always have that alpha dog in the middle, but being able to have two alpha dogs in the middle, it’s constant leadership, it’s constant playmaking ability,’’ White said.
You don’t have everybody trying to depend on that one guy.’’
Nope, it’s not a one-guy operation for Tampa Bay. The rock-solid David, 31, is the longest-tenured Buccaneer, in his ninth NFL season. White, 22, is in his second year and already established as a present and future star. Together, they are the centerpiece of a defensive front that applies pressure from the edges with Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. It all works because the two inside linebackers can do, well, pretty much everything.
Pretty much everything will be needed to deal with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, one of the NFL’s most dangerous weapons, regardless of positions. His eighth season with Kansas City was his best: He established career-highs in receptions (105), receiving yards (1,416) and touchdowns (11). In the postseason, Kelce has 21 catches for 227 yards and three touchdowns in victories over the Browns and Bills.
Devin White and Lavonte DavidIcon Sportswire via Getty Images
“It’s definitely a challenge,’’ David said.
Going against a guy like Kelce, the down is never over. He’s a guy in a tight end’s body who moves like a wide receiver.’’
David and White share much, but they won’t share this assignment.
“We’re gonna put Lavonte on him,’’ White said. “I’m more sort of go with the backs, cover the backs. Lavonte more so will cover the tight end. If he’s ever in my zone I’ll be ready, but nine times out of 10 as far one-on-one concepts in man, it won’t be me.’’
The Chiefs won at Tampa Bay, 27-24, on Nov. 29. Kelce had eight receptions for 82 yards and no touchdowns, which is a successful outing for any defense.
“He’s probably one of the best I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching,’’ Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “Other than him playing against you, you marvel at watching him play because if there’s a big play to be had, somehow he finds a way to get open.’’
The David-White pairing was not an immediate smash hit, though White, as the No. 5-overall pick in the 2019 draft, was considered a can’t-miss prospect. In 13 games as a rookie, White had 91 tackles and 2.5 sacks and left the Bucs wanting more.
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Long before Tom Brady, in fact 16 months before The…“Now we’re just taking it to another level as far as mindset. He’s still helping me to have one of the great mindsets in the game because as a linebacker that’s a key component, to be able to outsmart everybody. I’m a very smart young man, but you got to be football smart. For him to be playing at the NFL level for a long time he’s way more football smart than me, so I’m just trying to take bits and pieces to catch up with him.’’
White made the defensive calls as a rookie, a sign of the confidence Bowles had in him. In year No. 2, his production was gargantuan (140 tackles, nine sacks), and White is now the sideline-to-sideline machine the Bucs brought him in to be.
“It’s awesome to see,’’ David said. “We all know he didn’t have the type of year he wanted to have his rookie year. The transition this year, I’ve just seen it. “It’s fun seeing him having fun, like a kid out on the playground. He makes plays, I make plays, we celebrate with each other. One thing we always know, we’re going to have each other’s back.’’