Sunday, May 16, 2010

My Sit Down With Stylez G. White

(crossposted over at

Over the course of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 3-13 season last year there were only a few bright spots. Without a doubt, one of those bright spots was the play of defensive end Stylez G. White. In a season that most would want to totally forget, his ability to get after the quarterback was one of the few reasons the fans had to get up and cheer, especially on defense.

Of course Tampa Bay fans know the story of how the former number four pick in the draft, Gaines Adams may he rest in peace, was traded away which finally afforded White an opportunity to start after having racked up 13 sacks as a reserve the previous two seasons. But there are two things you probably didn't know. For one, the move came as much to a shock to White as it did to anyone.

"I was out man", he said, "and when I heard about it I had no idea. I would not think Gaines, may he rest in peace, he was gonna be traded. And when I heard about it I was kind of floored like what? Know what I mean? It was like, ok so now what are we doing? You know I'm like did we trade him for anybody? Did we get somebody else in? A whole bunch of things just ran through my mind. I was just really confused and afterwards I just have to wait and see what they're gonna do. Bring in a new guy? Am I gonna be the guy they go to? So it was a whole bunch of emotions that night."

But the second thing you probably didn't know was even more shocking. It turns out nobody actually sat down and talked to Stylez about what his role would be after the trade. When I asked him how they broke the news to him he said, "First they never told me anything. They never told me anything. Ok well I didn't really believe that I was going to start until the the day of. Like that Sunday."

In some ways I was shocked to hear that it was handled this way because I would have thought the coaching staff would have wanted to make the transition go as smoothly as possible especially after such a disastrous, winless, start to the season. but in many ways it made sense. By avoiding telling him he had the starting job nailed down perhaps it would keep the fire in his belly. And if it affected White he certainly didn't show it. He made the analogy that "it was like the first day I made the team. No one was like 'Hey Stylez, you made the team!' It was one of those things like know what I mean like alright we'll keep it moving. It was just one of those things you know."

One thing that was for certain after talking to him was that White was obviously affected by the disappointing way the season went. Having experienced the 6-10 season that first year under Coach Dungy I found myself nodding my head as he talked about his personal low point of last year. When he said, "The lowest point I had I think it was when we were 0-7 or something like that. It was was bad It was bad and I was like man. You don't even wanna go out. You don't even wanna go grocery shopping." I almost had a flashback myself. I can still vividly remember going out only when necessary and even then keeping my head down just in case a miracle might happen and somebody would recognize me as a Buccaneer. Losing always sucks, but especially when its in such a spectacular fashion.

So many fans don't really get just how much the game means to most players. For fans NFL football is something to watch on Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings. For them its their life and what they eat sleep and breath. The fact is as disappointed as we are as fans after a loss, just about all the players are more disappointed by a factor of a million. They are the ones who put in the work all week, every day in the hot sun and with the pressure of the world it seems upon them. And then you go through all that and you feel like that day will be the day when you get the monkey off your back and when it doesn't happen its terribly demoralizing. As Stylez himself put it "You know it was embarrassing. It was just embarrassing man. We couldn't generate a win. We couldn't stop anybody and people came in and I don't care how bad they were the week before they came in and you know pretty much like wiping their feet on us. It was pretty bad. It was very embarrassing. I'm sure the rest of the guys agree."

But in the midst of it all there was a calming force that kept the team together according to White. It wasn't because they were holding hands and singing kumbaya, and it wasn't because a lot of guys were playing for contracts. No, the calming force was in fact head coach Raheem Morris, something that should give Bucs fans some confidence going into this year.

"I can tell you this from the inside it was a little chatter here and there. And when it was getting to a point where it was like ok blah blah blah you know that's when Raheem stepped in. He was like, 'well if y'all got problems why don't y'all talk about it. Don't go tell don't go whisper in somebody else ear, you come talk to em like a man.' And he was like 'if you have a problem with me he or anybody else on the team come talk to me about it. Don't be bitching about stuff. And whispering. If you got something to say say it. Period.' And I think everybody took you know took to that and everybody was like alright well maybe we need to help him out. You know maybe we need to relax. He said all of y'all who thinks that y'all might be pointing fingers I'm sure that y'all didn't have a great season either."

For me it was gratifying as a former Bucs player and as a fan to hear it from somebody actually inside the locker room just how instrumental Coach Morris was in keeping the team together and keeping them playing hard and for each other in the face of what had to be a very miserable season for all.

How miserable did it get on defense? Well at some point even the littlest things were moral builders. White told me, "Just to have a three and out. The first time we had a three and out was huge for us." That ladies and gentlemen tells the whole story because in the past getting a three and out was a given for our defense. Last year it was a relief.

Of course eventually the conversation turned to Jim Bates and his scheme. Stylez himself admitted that at least initially he was excited about the scheme because for the defensive ends there wasn't any talk about having to two gap or anything like that. For them the focus was going to be pass rushing which is, of course, right up his ally. But when I asked him what the problem in his opinion was of the scheme he had a pretty simple answer. It was too predictable.

"I think the fact that it was I think from an offensive perspective when you're talking about us playing its that we were so predictable that it was easier for people to gash us. That's how I felt about the situation." he said.

On the other hand White was also somewhat supportive of Bates as well though and he again made the point that perhaps we just didn't have the personnel to run his system, a fair point I would agree. I would say it comes down to what direction the team was going and how, when and or if they would ever actually have the players needed to make that scheme work.

I asked him what he felt like we needed to do going into this season to improve our defense and more specifically our run defense which ranked dead last in the NFL. He responded by referencing the team's draft picks in Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, and Myron Lewis along with the confidence everybody now has in Coach Morris and his scheme. But he also made reference to some old school tenants of football. He said, "We gotta be more consistent. We got to play more together ball. And we just have to be unselfish. I think mainly as coach would say we gotta be disciplined. Once we do that everything will take care of itself." I think if most teams on any level followed that advice, they would almost have to see some improvement.

And White has also taken a hard look in the mirror and even though he played at a high level last year he identified for me some areas he wants to improve this year. "Being quicker. Being quicker off the ball. Being more creative with my pass rush. That's just gonna help us win. Getting sacks and fumbles, making them turn the ball over. I wanted to become quicker so I got a little slimmer lost a little weight worked on my footwork. Being 30 about to be 31 this year I want to be more in shape and in better condition. And I think the rest will take care of itself because I believe I'm pretty good skillfully and just being in better condition allowing me to stay out there longer, go a little harder it will pay off."

White has taken up boxing in the offseason to help him improve in many of these areas and he believes his production will go up tremendously this year. His response to my question about his personal goals this year was anything but bashful. "I want to have more fumbles whether it be from running backs (or quarterbacks). Definitely want double digit sacks. Anywhere from ten to a thousand, I'll take it. I'm looking for double digit sacks I'm looking for us to win a lot more games than three. I'm looking for us to even go deep into the playoffs. And you know what, that's attainable. Its a pretty big goal but its attainable"

Stylez White knows that most people, from fans to pundits, would be skeptical of the Bucs making a playoff run this year. He himself admitted that its still not apparent what this team will be because of their youth, the roster turnover and the fact that they will have to rely on so many rookies, highly drafted or not. But as we spoke it was apparent that he would not be setting his sights lower just because others are. He is committed to helping to turn the team's fortunes around and you get the definite impression that he won't accept anything less.

He also gave a strong endorsement of defensive line coach Todd Wash, albeit in his signature tongue in cheek fashion:

"I don't like working with him cuz he makes me work hard (laughing)I'll tell you that in a heartbeat. I can not stand working for Wash. Wash makes you work so hard like were the only guys that be out there and he'll be like I'm going to tell you like this if were going to win its going to be because of us up front and I'm going to make y'all work harder than anybody on our defense so y'all can be that type of defense. And I'll be real with you, the only thing he wants is the best out of me. But he be killing me. Like coach take it easy man I'm 30 years old. (laughing)"

"He also wants us to know what kind of plays are being run so when were on the sidelines we can communicate better. Like if you have a run block. Instead of saying you had 2 guys on you well what kind of block was it? Was it a straight double team was it a rub block did they scoop you?. He needs those terms so we can communicate with him. He makes us a better more well rounded football player so when were talking we can communicate better. ....He makes us work hard and we need it. we definitely need it."

Considering we haven't heard a lot about Wash in the regular media outlets here in the Tampa Bay area, it was definitely reassuring, to me at least, to hear such a high opinion of him from one of his best charges.

Our talk then turned to the two defensive linemen the Bucs spent their first two draft picks on in McCoy and Price and I wanted to know how he felt he could help those guys. His reply was very interesting because he used himself as an example and I thought he made a good point.

For those who don't know or had forgotten, Stylez had a very circuitous route to the NFL. He was initially drafted by the Houston Texans but after that he spent time on at least 5 other teams', including the Buccaneers', practice squad. He spent some time in NFL Europe and he spent two years playing Arena Football one of which he was the defensive player of the year and broke the league sack record with 15. But for him it wasn't about guys taking him under their wing. For him it was about watching some of the great ones he was fortunate to be around and then asking them a bunch of questions to help himself get better.

"When I came in in 2002 I saw how Simeon (Rice) worked and I would ask him questions. I saw how (Warren) Sapp worked and I asked him questions And they were all really good about helping out. I remember Sapp telling me that when you're pass rushing you only want to deal with half of a body. He told me all you want to deal with is half a body because I know for sure my whole body will beat your half body. He told me that and that's what I learned from him."

"So I ask and go from there. What should I do? Can I do it this way? What about that way? So if I have any advice for the young guys I guess its to ask questions."

I know that many of us, myself included, tend to over use the notion of older players "mentoring" the younger guys, but as White pointed out, many times those guys have to be willing to ask for help. A closed mouth doesn't get fed after all.

Even to this day Stylez continues to try to improve his own game by studying the moves of other great pass rushers past and present. He singled out Michael Strahan as a guy he really pays attention to because Strahan was a technician rather than a guy who relied heavily on just athletic ability or brute strength. The point he made was that you can teach a guy how to use great technique and be a successful pass rusher but you can't necessarily teach a guy to run as fast as a guy like Dwight Freeney and then spin all over the place.

On a side note I asked him about using a spin move more this year, something that I really endorse for him, and after a little hesitance initially from him and a little prodding from me he gave me this classic quote.

"If its going to help me get sacks I'm on it. If I gotta breakdance to get sacks or more pressures I'll do it."

One of Coach Morris' tweaks to the defense after he took over was adding some 3-4 schemes to help get pressure in definite passing situations. Stylez is that rare defensive end who is perhaps just as good rushing the passer on one side as he is the other and he really seemed to take to rushing the passer from a stand up position so I asked him about whether or not he was looking forward to doing more of that kind of thing this year.

"You know what, it was fun. It was fun. I like my hand in the ground though. I'll tell you that much, but it was fun. I'm looking forward to it this year. Its a different aspect of the game."

Of course if he can show the versatility to stand up and rush the passer as well as playing a traditional 4-3 defensive end spot that will likely make him a more attractive target for other teams in free agency next year. With the Bucs opting not to resign him at this point I asked him about the pressure of playing for a new contract and if Tampa was going to be his first choice if he ends up hitting free agency at the end of the season. His answers were in my opinion exactly what most fans would want to hear from one of their favorite players.

"At this point I think I have a lot of pressure on myself but this is what I'm doing. All I'm going to try to do is control what I can control. Being in shape, like I said I think I'm pretty good skillfully. Being quicker, honing my skills more."

"Its pressure but its football. I'd rather have it. I'd rather have it where the game is on the line it be on me."

As for resigning with Tampa being a priority he told me, "There's no question about that. This is where I want to be. Is this where I want my career to end? Yes. No question about that. Definitely. But again I can't worry about things I can't control. I'll just try to put myself in the best situation I can. And if its not here it will be unfortunate but it won't be here. I understand that its a business."

Considering all the current hoopla about Lebron James and where he may land as a free agent its refreshing to my ears to hear a guy express that strong a sentiment about staying with a team that first provided him an opportunity. Selfishly I hope that if he goes out and has the type of season he has predicted and which I think he has the potential to have, the Buccaneers will step up and do the right thing.

At the end of our discussion the conversation turned to legacy and what he wanted his legacy to be both on and off the field here in Tampa. Both answers give a glimpse into the strong character of the man as much as the player.

I referenced an interview up on where Stylez said he wanted to make the Pro Bowl and win Defensive Player Of The Year when asking him about his legacy on the field. But instead of pointing to an award he said what he really wanted is to be remembered as a great teammate. Whether making a lot of plays or even if he gets passed up on the depth chart due to injury or another guy just being better than him, he wants everyone to remember that he first and foremost he wanted to help all his teammates and he wanted to see his team do well regardless of his own personal achievements.

Off the field White has his own foundation named the "Better Us Foundation" which has a Shining Stars Program designed to "keep youth off the streets and provide for a safe, healthy social life." Stylez has partnered up with the Boys and Girls Club and sits on their Board of Directors. You can hear in his voice just how important to him this venture is to him and how committed he is to making a difference in the lives of these young men and women. He wants to learn all that he can from the Boys and Girls Club which has been a remarkable institution for decades and apply those lessons to his own foundation and try to leave that same kind of mark in the world.

As impressed as I already was with Stylez White as a player before the interview, my respect only grew for him as the conversation went on. He says the kinds of things that would make any serious football fan want to pull for him and see him do well. Of course talk is cheap in the NFL and so it remains to be seen just how well he and his team will do this year. But as for me while I may remain skeptical about a deep run into the playoffs I have to admit talking to the guy made me at least consider it which is more than I had previously done. And that's saying something.

No comments:

Post a Comment