A story that began to take shape as the preseason wore on was the emergence of Javin White as a potential backup weakside linebacker and matchup coverage piece for the Las Vegas Raiders defense.
White was undrafted out of University of Las Vegas and played high school football at McClymonds High School, so he has ties to both Las Vegas and Oakland. He entered the NFL as a converted linebacker from safety, a move that usually takes players at least one season of adding bulk and learning the NFL game in the trenches to acclimatize themselves. White hit the ground running in his second NFL season and was consistently showing up in coverage for the Raiders defense.
White has quietly put together a small resume of “teach tape” in various capacities as a coverage linebacker this pre-season. Of course the level of competition is a step down from the regular season, but it was looking as though he was ready for that jump given the way he was playing prior to being carted off the field with a knee injury late in the Rams game.
Impressive transition from Javin White in coverage. Wk Hook/Curl player has to carry 3 vertical. When the receivers tries to go under, White pivots off back foot and drives off front foot. DB background shows. pic.twitter.com/7fIYBmzL4C— BD Williams (@BDWilliams18) August 18, 2021
In the above clip, White is the weak side hook/curl defender. The way modern defenses handle the possibility of three vertical routes on one side of the formation is asking the weak hook/curl defender to “carry” the third receiver vertical.
White does just that in this rep. But the wrinkle on the offensive side of the ball is for the receiver to convert his vertical route into a crossing route when he identifies the LB dropping deep. White slams on the breaks and make a clean transition to pivot 90 degrees without losing speed and make a pass break-up. This isn’t the easiest coverage to execute, but White accomplished it albeit against back-up players.
This is awesome coverage by Javin White on slot receiver JJ Koski— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) August 22, 2021
Rams line up in empty to isolate Koski on a LB running a choice route but White gets his hands on him and shows some great COD, stays in Koski's hip pocket on the in-cut, and breaks up the pass.
Hope White is OK pic.twitter.com/8ozPKLrdsj
Early in the Rams game White began to really take off. The above play he is isolated against a wide-receiver when the Rams come out in an empty backfield. Before you start asking “why is a linebacker on a wide receiver?” please understand this in the NFL and it happens every week. The key to performing in this situation is leaning on technique and playing the correct leverage.
The Raiders are playing “palms” coverage to White’s side of the formation. This means he will have help against out-breaking routes from the cornerback and vertical routes from the safety. All White needs to do here is deny any inside breaking routes. Notice his body positioning is inside leverage and he jams the receiver as soon as he starts to cut inside. This is exactly how you play it, and why it is possible for a linebacker to defend a WR in coverage: because if it’s zone or zone-match, he doesn’t need to defend the entire route tree. White finishes the play with a pass-breakup. It arguably could have been an interception, but the technique and change of direction ability is the most important part here.
Javin White ROBOTs off the back and falls back under the over route. He's going to force the front office to make a tough decision soon. pic.twitter.com/TfFmGgcyWB— BD Williams (@BDWilliams18) August 22, 2021
White wasn’t finished, he capped off his performance with a spectacular pass break-up in zone coverage against the type of route that kills this particular coverage call. The defense is in a zone blitz and there are 3 underneath defenders while the outside corners are locked in man. White’s responsibility here is to take away the hot route of number 2 to his side. The call is a blitz so the coverage is designed to take away the quick throws.
The Rams however have a great counter in the form of play-action and max protection. Combination of which slows down the pass rush. Nevin Lawson is in a tough spot because he’s playing a technique where the ball needs to come out quick but now that the quarterback has extra time, the crossing route has time to develop all the way on the opposite side of the field.
White’s man is the RB in this formation and when he identifies the back staying in to protect, White swivels his head to look for the deep over route coming his way. He puts his head down and takes the perfect angle to intersect where the receiver is headed. Again his background as a defensive back shows up because he plays through the hands and comes up with yet another pass break-up.
There is still hope that White returns this season. The Raiders have yet to place him on injured reserve and he has a buffer as long as Cory Littleton remains healthy the Raiders will have little need for his services. If he does come back, he will be a year ahead of Divine Deablo who made a similar position switch from safety to linebacker this off-season. White struggled last year and it is safe to assume so would Deablo, but White has already shown the game is slowing down for him and if healthy should be ahead on the depth chart. Raiders fans will have to wait and see the severity of the injury.