ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills’ cornerback Tre’Davious White was still on the field well after practice ended, talking things over with rookie corner Kaiir Elam and other defensive backs. They took some time to pose for a group picture.
For the first time in more than 11 months, the 2019 All-Pro participated in a full football practice as part of the 53-man roster. Much has changed since White tore his left ACL on Thanksgiving night in New Orleans.
The Bills drafted a cornerback, Elam, in the first round for the first time since White was picked 27th overall in the 2017 NFL draft out of LSU. Former Bills cornerback Levi Wallace is now in Pittsburgh. The team has jumped out to a 6-1 start.
Remembering the team’s pre-practice stretches took a couple of days for the veteran.
But after months of rehab and a cautious approach, White is closer than ever to making his return from the first serious injury of his career. His status for Sunday’s game at the New York Jets (1 p.m. ET, CBS) is still day to day, per coach Sean McDermott. But he is close to rejoining the best defense in the league (14 points allowed per game, ranks first) and is hopeful about his ability to play to the level he did before.
“I bust my ass during this process. So, once I come back and perform well, it's not gonna be a surprise to me,” White said. “… The people that know me that I care about, and that care about me and just know the amount of work and effort and blood, and literally blood, sweat and tears that I put into this rehab, they know.”
White, 27, had missed only three games in his NFL career before suffering the injury. In 2019, White had a career-high six interceptions, 17 passes defensed, and allowed zero touchdowns as the nearest defender per NFL Next Gen Stats. In 2021, he was the only Bills defender with at least 50 targets to not allow a touchdown.
There’s no doubt his impact on the field was significant, and for White, the toll of the injury was felt both physically and mentally.
“It was a testament of me just getting out of a slump,” White said. “… The first few months, it was very hard, very depressing time. Locked up in my basement, they had to come drag, guys from the facility had to come drag me out of there.”
Even as White neared the end of the process, he said he's still had some tough days. But if there's a silver lining to his time off the field, it's that he learned more about himself.
“I got more to give to people then knocking a pass down and intercepting a ball,” White said. “So, it was the first time in my life I sat down and was like: Tre'Davious White, what else can I offer to people? I know I'm bigger than just a football game or just knocking a pass down. I started reading, started to get into a different space. Just learning about myself, learning about what's my purpose here on earth other than playing a football game.”
The time he spent with family -- including his 5- and 3-year old sons, Tre’Davious Jr. and Tristen -- was another positive from the time away from football. He was able to take them places a football schedule wouldn’t have allowed for, and he said his family helped him get through it.
On the physical side, the work has never stopped.
“I've seen guys rehab from ACLs really good. I'm not gonna say it's the best, but I've seen nobody better than Tre, the work he's put into it,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said. “He took his family down to Disney World at one point and he was rehabbing down there at some Airbnb or something, so, proud of him, and I'm just glad we're getting closer and closer.”
Since returning to practice three weeks ago, White has been ramping up his participation each week, moving from a non-contact jersey to a normal practice jersey and now working with the defense as opposed to the practice squad. He's still working on regaining the confidence to plant and drive on his left leg, not just being able to run straight forward.
On the side, he’s also working on getting his close friend and former LSU teammate Odell Beckham Jr. to join the Bills after he recovers from his own torn ACL by sending him “2,700 Buffalo Bills emojis.”
“It's a good problem to have, you know, to have Tre'Davious back and to be able to have those discussions about integrating him into practice,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “... We'll do what's best for Christian, along with Kaiir, you know, what's best for them, but also find ways to evaluate Tre and just see where he is and without setting Kaiir or Christian back.”
While he hasn’t yet returned to game action, White's experience has already helped one of his closest teammates, safety Micah Hyde, who is out for the year with a neck injury. Hyde will now be going through what White experienced, waiting for his own turn to return to practice.
“I did lean on Tre'Davious,” Hyde said. “I had a long conversation with Tre'Davious a few weeks ago and just to pick his mind, see where his head was at trying to come back but also what obstacle I'm going to have to face … just kind of picking his brain really helped me out.”