TAMPA — If you want to see a running back with all the right moves, take a closer look at Rachaad White.
The Bucs rookie from Arizona State didn’t wait to U-Haul it from the desert to Tampa Bay once training camp started.
He packed everything up and settled his family, including 11-month-old daughter Nevaeh (Heaven backwards), in Tampa shortly after being drafted in the third round.
“I would say Rachaad White has done a fantastic job,” general manager Jason Licht said. “He’s a got a very mature approach. He reminds me of (Chris) Godwin when he came in as a rookie and wanting to get all his ducks in a row before training camp so he could focus on football.”
Few Bucs players are held in as high regard as Godwin, who signed a three-year, $60 million contract in March, less than three months after sustaining torn knee ligaments.
What separated Godwin instantly upon arriving as a rookie in 2017 was his maturity. Rather than stay in a hotel during training camp, he moved into an apartment with his then-fiancée and conducted his business like a 10-year veteran.
“I had to get those things knocked out of the way,” White explained. “I mean, I played 11 or 12 games in college, and I know this season can get long. I’m going to knock out steps one at a time, and of course getting that down before coming to training camp, it’s one less thing to worry about.
“They showed me a plan, a plan they believed in and I believed in, to come into training camp in shape and at the right weight. The resources we have here — ice tub, hot tub — there were a lot of things here for me, so I might as well stay here and train here.”
White didn’t leave his confidence in storage.
Almost immediately upon arriving in Tampa Bay following the draft, he declared his aim on the starting running back job held by Leonard Fournette, who signed a three-year, $21 million contract in the offseason.
“My mindset, I’m not going to be a backup,” White said. “My mindset is I can only get better one percent every day. My goal is to be a starter, but I’m also pushing ‘Lenny’ and other guys around me to get better. ‘Sneak’ (Ke’Shawn Vaughn) and ‘Gio (Giovani Bernard). We’re all pushing each other.”
Fournette is coming off one of his best seasons in the NFL, having combined for 1,266 yards from scrimmage (812 rushing, 454 receiving) and 10 touchdowns. But the 27-year-old likes what he sees and hears from White, including designs on his job.
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“We talk every day,” Fournette said. “He sits right next to me. He’s always coming to me, asking me questions and I give him my best answer. A lot of people made a big deal about him saying he’s coming and starting, I mean, why wouldn’t that be your mindset? I mean, when I was a rookie I had the same mindset, and my job is to pass that on down the line and help him out as much as I can while I’m here, while I’m still playing.”
The confidence White displays has been earned through one of the more winding roads to the NFL.
With no offers from big college programs coming out of Center High in Kansas City, White began his journey at Division II Nebraska-Kearney, where he spent a redshirt season in 2017 before transferring to Mt. San Antonio Community College in Walnut, California.
He rushed for 1,254 yards and 10 touchdowns and was named the No 3 junior college running back in the nation.
To pay his bills, White sometimes woke by 4 a.m. to work jobs in the warehouses, putting together furniture and serving as a security man for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Eventually, he found his way to Arizona State, where he averaged 6.4 yards per carry as a two-year starter for former Jets and Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards.
“I’ve been through a long journey, and I’m grateful for it,” White said. “I wouldn’t change anything in the world. If I had to do it again, I’m going to take the same path, because it made me who I am today as a man.”
White brings the Bucs something Tom Brady has been lacking since he arrived in 2020 — a natural pass-catcher at the running back position who can split wide on the line of scrimmage and win an option route against a linebacker or safety.
Brady made a living dumping the football off to Corey Dillon, Kevin Faulk, LeGarrette Blount and James White in New England.
Fournette similarly has established himself as a three-down back in Tampa Bay with 105 receptions over the past two seasons. But his contributions in the passing game come more on screens and circling into the flat.
White had 43 receptions for 456 yards and one touchdown in 11 games for Arizona State last year.
“I try to figure out what’s different from other guys,” White said. “No knock on ‘Lenny.’ He’s got a heck of a receiving portfolio. But I’m just separating myself from just other guys and what I can bring to the table and making sure I can do everything.
“There’s no reason a coach should say, ‘I need to take him off the field if he can’t pass protect.’ I need to be able to get a short yard on third-and-1. I need to hit a home run, the long run. I need to be able to drag the power and little things like that.”
At 6-foot, 214 pounds, White has a graceful and patient running style that is reminiscent of Le’Veon Bell. The key to playing time may be how quickly Brady can trust White in pass protection.
“They don’t really do that a lot in college where they get the ball out real quick or you’re the featured running back,” Bucs head coach Todd Bowles said. He’s willing, that’s the biggest thing. It’s just a matter of getting down the schematics of it and understanding his technique.”
If that happens, the only move left is up the depth chart past veterans such as Vaughn and Bernard.
A starting job? Well, that would be Nevaeh (spelled backwards).
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