TAMPA — Kwon Alexander wants to beat the Bucs badly.
A four-year starter for Tampa Bay at middle linebacker before leaving in free agency this year, he would love to embarrass his old team in his old stadium in Sunday’s season opener.
The Bucs didn’t have the belief to sign him to a four-year, $54 million contract the way the 49ers did after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL. So Alexander doesn’t want to just win the teams’ opener, he wants to make the plays that win the game for San Francisco. A lot of pride, revenge and love comes with competing against your brothers.
But when asked about his emotions, Alexander’s motormouth slowed way down.
“Nah, I’ll be the same,’’ he said Wednesday. “Go out there and get a win. That’s all. Just do my job. Long as we get the win, I’ll be all right. I’m not worried about anything else. It’s not all about me. It’s about the team.’’
Devin White, the Bucs’ fifth overall draft pick this year, will handle Alexander’s old job Sunday. The two have been close because they are part of the linebacker tree at LSU.
Surely White is looking forward to playing his first regular-season NFL game against a player who texted him often during the draft process?
“Yeah, I just want to win,’’ White said. “Oh, yeah, playing football. It’s always fun. Just getting a W is good enough.’’
C’mon, guys. Where is the hurt? Where is the anger? Where is the bulletin board material?
Alexander, 25, should be grateful to be playing anywhere after his devastating knee injury. He was hurt in the Bucs’ overtime win against the Browns on Oct. 21, and for a time, it wasn’t a lock that he would be ready to start this season.
Tampa Bay had a difficult decision to make about Alexander in the offseason. Strapped with about the least amount of space under the salary cap of any team in the league, the Bucs decided to re-sign left tackle Donovan Smith and let Alexander walk. The 49ers weren’t sure what they would get in Alexander, but they apparently saw enough on film to pay him a fortune.
“He’s been coming back from an injury, which we’ve slow-played that a lot,’’ San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We tried to play that very safe. He didn’t play until our third preseason game and did well in there, but I know he’s fired up, ready to go.”
When Alexander is healthy, he’s very good. Despite playing in only six games last season, he has racked up 380 career tackles, including an NFL-best 108 solo tackles in 2016. He also finished his Bucs career with six interceptions and seven sacks.
“I think he did some excellent things here, and that’s why he got what he deserved getting signed by San Fran,’’ Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said. “There’s definitely going to be a lot of respect (Sunday), but at the same time there’s going to be a lot of brotherly competition because I know he’s going to give us everything he’s got, so I know we’ve got to do the same thing for him.’’
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If anyone should feel pressure Sunday, it’s White. At 21, he will quarterback the Bucs’ new defense under coordinator Todd Bowles, communicating all the play calls and making the presnap adjustments.
Unlike Alexander, who was a fourth-round pick out of LSU in 2015 and wasn’t expected to start Week 1 as a rookie, White has that first-round pedigree and is a preseason favorite to be defensive rookie of the year.
During the draft process, White said he was in constant contact with Alexander, one LSU alumnus helping another and dreaming of being on the same team.
But when asked if they’ve conversed recently, White shrugged. “No. I mean, we just have normal conversation,’’ he said with a face as solemn as a mortician’s for reasons unknown.
White didn’t play much in the preseason and didn’t make many plays. He had two tackles and two assists playing just more than two quarters.
“I thought it was extremely solid,’’ coach Bruce Arians said of White. “As far as running the show and doing all of those things — I don’t get into tackles and all of that — he did his job and covered his guy. We didn’t do some of the things we are probably going to do in-season with him, but I thought he handled that part of it, and that’s all we wanted.’’
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said White is special: “Devin is just a playmaker. He wants to be great and be the best linebacker in the NFL.”
Alexander was fortunate to make it into one preseason game.
“But he looked like himself,’’ Arians said. “Obviously, we wanted him back, but he hit the lottery, so God bless him. I am all for it. Now we are playing against him, and we know what he can do. We know what his strengths and weaknesses are.”
But Alexander will have some mental hurdles to scale with the injury as well as learning a new position. He will play weakside linebacker while Fred Warner remains a middle linebacker.
“We’ve loved Kwon,’’ Shanahan said. “His energy since he’s been here has been great. He’s positive every day. As he’ll say, he’s legendary every day.’’
Kwon Alexander wants to beat the Bucs. He wants to run up the score. If that happens, you can bet he will start talking. He may never stop.
“He’s going to be wide open,’’ Bucs linebacker Kevin Minter said. “Expect his best this weekend.’’
A look ahead at Bruce Arians’ first year in Tampa Bay and a critical season for Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers.