TAMPA — The defense of the Tampa Bay Bucs needs passion. It needs focus. It needs hunger. Frankly, it needs a little of that step-on-neck level of nastiness.
Most of all, the defense of the Tampa Bay Bucs needs style.
To put it another way, it needs Stylez.
Glance around the huddle. Look at the faces: Barrett's and Ronde's and Aqib's and Geno's and Gerald's and Quincy's. Now ask yourself this: Whose performance might be the most important of the bunch?
Maybe, just maybe, it is the grinning face of Stylez White, a defensive end in search of more substance.
If not for White, where else is the pass rush going to come from?
When you consider that much of the success of Tampa Bay's defense — of any defense, really — comes from pressuring the opposing quarterback, it's a sobering question. The Bucs simply don't have enough candidates to be that edge rusher that makes quarterbacks nervous. With Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer, Matt Stafford and Joe Flacco on the schedule, it's a cause for concern.
Which leads us back to White, who says his time has finally come.
"I guarantee you I'm going to put some heat on the quarterback this year," White said. "I take pride in that. I want to be great at it. So put it on me. I embrace it. I won't shy away from it.
"My personal goal is 15 sacks. When you get from 12 to 15, everyone knows who you are. You're one of the elite pass rushers in this league. And I want to be elite. I think it's in me."
Really? White thinks he can get 12 to 15 sacks? A guy who has been cut by six teams in the NFL? A guy who once was on the practice squad of the British Columbia Lions? A guy who spent time in the Arena League after the NFL kept telling him he wasn't good enough to play?
"When people hear that, they're probably going to doubt me," he acknowledged. "That's nothing new for me. I've had people doubt me my whole life."
On the other hand — and for the Bucs, this is the key question — who else is there? Nobody, really. They might get a better push up the middle from rookies Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, but except for White, there isn't a defensive lineman on the roster who has had more than four sacks in a season. Think of it like this: In his three years with the Bucs, White has 19½ sacks. The other 13 linemen in camp have a total of 19½ in their careers. And that includes defensive tackle Ryan Sims, who has 8½, but it took him 99 games to get there.
"With the pressure we're putting on him, he's going to have to be a darn good pass rusher," defensive line coach Todd Wash said. "His goal is to get into double digits. He knows if he doesn't reach those goals, it's going to be a disappointing year for him."
In years past, White has done well as a situational pass rusher. But until the trade of Gaines Adams last year, White couldn't convince the Bucs he was an every-down player. He has started only 10 games in his three seasons.
"He has a lot of ability," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "He's flashed it before. He has to be able to go out there and consistently dominate. He has had about 30 snaps a game where he can go full go, and then he runs out of gas. We have to find ways to keep his gas going and to keep his motor lit."
Let's face it. The Bucs are asking a lot of White, 31. They didn't address defensive end in free agency, and they didn't take one in the draft until they picked Erik Lorig in the seventh round.
Instead, they are counting on White, whose path into the NFL has been one of the strangest journeys in league history.
It isn't just that White was a Cologne Centurion in the European League, or an Orlando Predator in the Arena League, or that the Texans, Falcons, Titans, Saints, Redskins and Bears all cut him. It's that he spent time checking receipts while working at Best Buy, or hauling water into Manhattan, or delivering pizza in Newark.
White might be the only defensive end in NFL history fired from a job where, for $6 an hour, he stood by a conveyer belt like Laverne and Shirley and made sure the caps on syrup bottles were secure. He got fired from that job, by the way, for not wearing a hairnet.
For some, making it from the syrup factory to the NFL might be enough of an accomplishment. White says it isn't for him.
"I still have a Pro Bowl in me," he said. "I want to be defensive player of the year. I want to win a Super Bowl. I think those things are in me."
If so, a lot of NFL teams are going to have some explaining to do.
The first time White was fired by the NFL, by the Texans, he was so upset that he didn't tell his mother, Vera, for two months. The two would talk, and he would tell her everything was fine and rush away. After it happened with five more teams, White said, he didn't even want teams to explain it to him.
"It wasn't like I quit football," White said. "It was like football quit me."
Just asking, but are we sure Bruce Smith did it this way?
"I'd like to think it made me appreciate things a little more," White said. "It makes me understand I'm not better than anyone out there. I just have a different job."
Right now, that job is chasing down the quarterback, which is hard to do. Linemen can hold you and cut you and double-team you. Quarterbacks can roll away or take a short drop or throw the ball away. Offenses can screen you and draw you. As professional sports goes, it is home run difficult, birdie difficult, knockout punch difficult.
"It's like moving a mountain," White said. "It's a celebration. And if you get a sack-fumble, that's like hitting the jackpot."
Think of it as a gamble, then. White's career always has been a long shot. Say what you want about the odds, but if there is any heat, it is up to White to bring it.
"It's about time," White said.