TAMPA — Rachaad White pulled on his Bucs practice uniform for the first time Thursday night. Suddenly, his symbolic arrival as an NFL player would not leave his head.
“I was trying to take my helmet home to the hotel last night, but they wouldn’t allow me to,” said White, the Bucs’ rookie running back from Arizona State.
“...I was just going to wear my helmet, watch the Mavs game last night, watch the other game, the Philadelphia 76ers, with a helmet on. I just wanted to wear it.”
White has a chance to not only dress for the Bucs on Sundays but make one of the bigger contributions among his rookie class this season.
The third-round pick will enter a crowded backfield with do-it-all starter Leonard Fournette, Ke’Shawn Vaughn and veteran third-down back Giovani Bernard.
But at 6-foot-1, 214 pounds, White could provide Tom Brady a reliable target out of the backfield that the future Hall of Famer was used to during his 20 seasons in New England. With the Sun Devils, White rushed for exactly 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns and caught 43 passes for 456 yards and another score.
“He’s a good talent, that’s why we drafted him,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said. “Leonard is our starter, obviously. We look for White to compete with Vaughn and Gio and we’ll see from there. ... He has good size. He has good feet and good speed. We’ll see in preseason where he fits at. But he’s capable of spelling Leonard, he’s capable of catching a ball. He’s capable of doing a lot of things.”
But how quickly can White earn Brady’s trust?
Fournette had a remarkable performance in 2021. He combined for more than 1,200 yards rushing and receiving. But the workload — he had 249 touches in 13 games — wore him down toward the end of the season and in the playoffs.
Brady no longer trusted Ronald Jones, who rushed for close to 1,000 yards during the Bucs’ Super Bowl 55 run, because he was bad in pass protection. Jones signed with the Chiefs as a free agent.
“Why it’s tough to get Lenny off the field, he’s a three-down back,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said of Fournette. “He’s a smart guy, and he and Tom can play ball. They can play ball together when it starts moving on them and things are changing and things have to happen, Lenny and him can play ball. They’ve been in these situations.
“That’s why it’s hard to really get him off the field because of what he brings and the connection him and Tom have. I think it’s unique. It’s not that we’re forcing him on that field. It’s because he’s the best in what we’re asking him to do. We’ll see how it plays out this year.”
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Bucs running backs coach Todd McNair said White has to first learn the offense and be sound in his assignments, something that can occasionally trip up Fournette.
“(Fournette’s) got a feel for getting open sometimes, and he’s got a habit for ad-libbing and that can get him in trouble,” McNair said. “Doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. He’ll go do a fake, ‘I’ve got to run out here in the flat,’ but the backers are dropping so he’ll just turn around and Tom will hit him. They got a little street ball feel for each other and that can get Lenny in trouble a lot. He ends up in the wrong place a lot. There’s a plus and minus. But him and Tom are comfortable together … that’s probably why Lenny wound up coming back.”
During Friday’s first rookie minicamp practice, White rarely left McNair’s side. Between plays, they were constantly talking about some of the nuances of the offense.
With his size and catch radius, White should have an advantage over some of the Bucs’ other backs as a receiver who can split out wide and win on routes.
“From a receiving standpoint, he’s a bigger target,” McNair said of White. “From a range standpoint, he’s got more range and things like that. That’s where it matters. Gio running a slant vs. Rachaad running a slant. Bigger target, catch radius. The more range you have in the passing game as you split out, that’s going to be an advantage.
“I think he’ll fit good. That was a really good scheme fit. You think back, we’ve always talked about David Johnson and what his role was in Arizona in the offense. Lenny got a feel for that because he could split out and do wide receiver stuff. The versatility is a plus.”
At least on Friday, White looked the part of an NFL player.
“When you walk out on that grass as a football player, man, all the football instincts just come in,” he said after his first practice. “But there were times that I caught myself just looking around. Looking at the logo on everybody’s helmet, looking at the jersey colors. Yeah, it’s crazy. I’m on the Buccaneers, so it’s wild.”
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