Monday, August 22, 2016

With Humbleness & Heart: The Tracy White Story (Part 2)

(You can read Part 1 here.)

Released by the Seahawks. Picked up by the Jaguars a Day Later.
In 2005, the Seahawks were retooling their linebacking corps. Chad Brown moved onto New England, Anthony Simmons was released and Seattle moved up in the draft to pick Lofa Tatupu. Tracy White didn’t fit their plans and was released after preseason despite being “one of the best special teams players,” according to then-Seattle special teams coach Mark Michaels, who informed the Ranter.

But Michaels had also moved that year to Jacksonville’s coaching staff (only three hours from Tracy’s home town), and the Jaguars picked up White just one day after being released from Seattle.

“It’s real strange but everything happens for a reason. It brought me closer to home, and I'm excited to play for the Jaguars,” White told the Seattle Times.

In Jacksonville, White played primarily on special teams for 15 games before being placed on IR. The Jaguars did not offer White a contact after the season as once again, he didn’t fit their plans at the linebacking position.

By that time, White had embraced special teams wholeheartedly and went onto make his mark in that area as Michaels told us:

“I feel Tracy was one of the best special teams players that I coached in my 8 years in the NFL.”

Reunited with Ted Thompson
Formerly in Seattle during Tracy White’s NFL beginnings, Ted Thompson was now in his second year as Green Bay’s General Manager in 2006 and picked up the free agent White.

It was an interesting situation at linebacker for the Packers at the time but one that seemed optimistic. Nick Barnett was the mainstay and coming off his best year, and the Packers made moves to further solidify the unit by drafting standout Ohio State Buckeye AJ Hawk with the 5th overall pick. They took it further by taking Abdul Hodge in the third round and the perception was they got great value.
Hodge, the 67th pick in '06

Don Pompeii of the Sporting News gave the Packers 2006 draft an A+ and said at the time:

"With linebackers A.J. Hawk and Abdul Hodge, the Packers have the beginnings of a defense that could dominate the NFC North for years."

Ben Taylor, Brady Poppinga, Roy Manning, Kurt Campbell and the relatively unknown Tracy White rounded out the linebacking competition.

But when fullback Brandon Miree was promoted from the practice squad, White was released. Soon after, DL Kendrick Allen was placed on IR. Coupled with backup linebackers Ben Taylor and Hodge dealing with injuries, White was resigned as insurance.

After making the final cut, White was properly utilized according to his expertise: on special teams. And in just his first season with Green Bay, he became the best at player in that regard on the team as the Journal Sentinel reported. It’s what got him another contract in 2007, where he once again was the Packers’ most productive player on special teams and received a significant increase in snap counts. The Packers had even gone from dead last in special teams to 7th place in 2007.

At the risk of bringing up a painful Packer memory, I would like to quickly revisit the 2007 NFC Championship game. With just over two minutes left in the game  – before the deflating OT loss – the Packers and Giants were tied 20-20. Green Bay was pinned near their own 15-yard line and forced to punt. The Giants were going to get excellent field position and a great opportunity to score. Fans everywhere were on pins and needles. The Packers needed a big play.

Enter Tracy White.

After John Ryan’s short punt, RW McQuarters took the ball at the Packers’ 48 yard line. He went about 10 yards before trying to cut in front of White, who knocked the ball loose. It was a gift from the football gods, but Green Bay sadly couldn’t fall on the ball. What might have been...



The Curious Underappreciation of Tracy White
When he hit free agency in 2008, White visited both Pittsburgh and Denver but opted for Green Bay and was rewarded him with a two-year deal. White had seemingly finally found a football home. Coach McCarthy even called White the best special teams player the last two years. Still at only 27-years old, White was in the prime of his career.

But management had other plans. With Favre now gone and Rodgers taking over at quarterback, the Packers were in the midst of building for the future and had suddenly laid claim to being the youngest team in the NFL. White initially made the cut (they had retained 7 linebackers in August) but on October 8th, the following Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headline appeared.


The Packers had cut Tracy White in favor of 23-year old practice squad linebacker Danny Lansanah. Apparently, Lansanah was being pursued by the Dolphins (he would end up there the next year after being cut by the Packers). At least this is what they told Tracy. Again, from the Journal Sentinel:

“Miami wanted to get him and they (the Packers) wanted to keep him so they had to make a roster move,” White said. “They wanted to stay young. I was told they want him for the ‘long haul.’ Those were the words quoted to me.”

At 6’1, 248 lbs., Lansanah also possessed a more typical size for linebacker. With AJ Hawk uncertain at the time with groin injury, Lansanah was perceived to be somewhat of insurance. It was a story Tracy had heard before.

For the fans who felt the sting, they had only to sullenly fall back on the relatively new Packers’ mantra at the time: In Ted We Trust.

The absence of Tracy White was clearly felt and the Packers special teams thereafter plummeted, finishing 26th in 2008 and 31st in 2009. If you think that's just hyperbole, this is what Bob McGinn had to say in 2010.
The dropoff in special teams even led to the (suggested) retirement of special teams coach Mike Stock from football. But Stock can’t be totally blamed for the fallout. As Tom Silverstein pointed out, “It was by far his toughest (year) given the few veterans he had to work with and the constant musical chairs he oversaw because of numerous injuries.

Silverstein also asked Stock about Tracy White specifically, and Stock “didn’t hide the fact that move affected the units.” As Stock said to Silverstein regarding White:

"He was kind of a quiet leader, because he'd take guys into the video room and sit and talk and discuss the various aspects of the Big Four, if you will, of the return aspects and the coverage aspects of the game with the young guys.

3 comments:

  1. A_Lerxst_in_PackerlandSeptember 8, 2016 at 6:59 PM

    I really had never fully appreciated the sheer magnitude of this man's contributions to the Packers special teams. Heck, he WAS the Packers special teams! Great articles! Awesome to have you guys back posting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lerxst - that was probably the biggest revelation for me in researching. I always knew he was good, but to this degree. So interesting. Thanks for the response!

      Delete

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