The future is now. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
I think Tracy White could be a prototypical linebacker for the future.
Hear me out- I understand that I'm jumping to a quick conclusion after one week, but I think that White could be the future of defenses everywhere. Now Tracy White is old at 30 years of age. He's small at 6'0 and 235 lbs. He's historically been a special teams player. He is not the future himself- but he can be a project, a test of whether or not this type of player can succeed on the defensive side of football.
In order to see White's value, we have to look at the evolution of the offense. Between 2000 and 2010, the league averaged fewer than 4 tight ends a season with over 800 receiving yards, and you could usually expect Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Jason Witten to be on that list. This season, 11 tight ends could break that barrier (Jake Ballard, Owen Daniels, Fred Davis, Jermichael Finley, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Dustin Keller, Heath Miller, Greg Olsen, Jason Witten), and there are a few who are just a little off track, but have the capability (Antonio Gates, Aaron Hernandez, etc). This league is evolving to include tight ends in receiving packages and there's little anyone has been able to do to stop their success.
Defensive backs are too small- how can a 6-0, 190 pound player expect to impede the progress of a 6-5, 255 lbs tight end? Linebackers are too slow and aren't agile enough to compete with the pure athletes at the tight end position. Defenses have been able to slow the tight ends by setting two defensive players aside to bracket the tight end, but that only allows other holes in the defense for the elite quarterbacks to take advantage. A new type of player must evolve to defend these tight ends one-on-one.
Enter Tracy White. Yes, he's not perfect. Yes, he let up the touchdown catch to Jake Ballard. However, that was his first game on defense and instincts come with playing time. White is primarily a special teams player and that comes with speed, agility, and ability to straight up tackle a player. White is a "Core-Four" special teams player, which is a player on both coverage and return units for both the punting and kicking game. He is able to jam and run with opposing gunners and stick with them down the field.
When looking at tight ends, their routes are usually pretty simple- run up the seam, or make an out route. If they route out, the defender can jam them and throw off their timing with the quarterback. Or, if you're Tracy White, you can blow the tight end off of his feet.
These special teams players who have the athleticism to stick with the tight ends. They have enough strength to jam the tight end at the line. They have enough speed to stick with them down the field. They are the missing link and what the future will inevitably need to have- they are the solution to the tight end problem sweeping the league.
Here is Tarpinian's scouting report from the draft:
Anchors piles inside and comes off to make plays. Athletic enough to handle tight ends in man coverage, gets out to flat to take on running backs. Good awareness in zone, takes away underneath routes.
I believe that he can be the future for the Patriots. He is a Core-Four special teams player. He is bigger than White at 6-3, 235 lbs, which means that he's more capable at covering down the field. Tarpinian did an admirable job with his time on the field against the Jets and he should look to earn more time down the road.
Just remember that it started with Tracy White. The Core-Four player who went beyond his role and stepped up on defense. He's more than just a special teams player. He's a special team player.