Buffalo's All-Pro cornerback Tre'Davious White has spent a year on the sidelines as he heals from an ACL injury. Watching his teammates do what he loves but not being able to participate has been tough. But, White finally sees the light at the end of the tunnel as he is active for today's Thanksgiving game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
It's a momentous day for White who was activated to the Bills' 53-man roster in mid-October and has been practicing with the team on a daily basis since then. The Bills have taken a day-to-day approach to White's return during that time, working to make sure that the cornerback is at full strength before taking the field on game days.
The pure joy of knowing he's ready to put the injury in the past is showing in the way White practices.
"Since he's been out there, you can definitely see his spirit just grow," rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam said. "He's always been a talkative guy, but you see his happiness and spirit grow, especially if I make a play or somebody makes a play, he's the first one to congratulate you. He's so happy to just be out there.
"Just seeing his work ethic translate from the training room to the field is really inspiring because he could come out there and hold back a little bit because he's been injured and doesn't really want to test it, but he's flying around. He has a great attitude and a positive attitude."
Buffalo's defense will definitely grow with the addition of the NFL's interception leader from 2019 season, but the team as a whole will be better off because one of their best leaders is back.
"He does such a great job influencing young members of our team, young members of the defense, of the secondary," head coach Sean McDermott said. "His energy is infectious."
"Now that he's back on the field and in the meeting rooms, you feel his presence," cornerback Dane Jackson said. "Whether he's just sitting there or whether he's making a joke like he usually does. Then the leadership, he's been a leader since I got here. Even for the older guys, just the way he carries himself off the field."
White leads the team in a variety of ways on and off the field. But one of the defense's favorite qualities about the corner has to be his infectious and larger than life personality, which they're excited to have back in the meeting room.
"He's one of those guys who keeps it loose," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of White. "He's always joking and cracking on his teammates. And you kind of miss that when things get tense in our business because you're so locked in on trying to get a win. To have a guy who can kind of break it up a little bit, but yet still go out and play at a high level, you need guys like that."
White has played at an elite level since coming into the NFL thanks to his work ethic on the practice field and in the film room. Since 2017, the Pro Bowler has racked up 16 interceptions, 60 passes defensed and 11 tackles for loss. The defensive backs room is full of young talent that aims to put up those numbers, and the coaching staff knows White's hard work and productivity is setting a great example for them.
Second-year safety Damar Hamlin hasn't had much of an opportunity to play with White yet and is looking forward to learning from him.
"Tre brings knowledge to the field," Hamlin said. "Just hearing him speak on situational football and what's coming from play to play to play, it just lets me know what kind of caliber player he is. I'm excited to play with him."
"He takes great notes," Frazier said of his cornerback. "He has a file on almost every receiver that he goes up against. And so, for our young players to see him as he's preparing for a game is a lot different than when you're sitting in the meetings and you're not going to have to play. But now that he's getting in that preparation mode to go out and play in a game, our young players will be able to learn how he prepares and how he goes about his business away from the practice field, which is so, so important.
"The way he studies tape, the way he takes notes on players and how to translate that from the classroom to the practice field, that's going to be really good for our young players."
While White's energy and leadership will help the team in more ways than one, his teammates are making sure they also do their part by helping him. Everybody knows the CB is full of confidence, but the entire team is building him up, so his confidence is at an all-time high for his first game back.
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs understands the mental battle that goes into fighting back from an injury and wants to let White know they're there for him.
"I just feel like that's a guy we're gonna love up regardless," Diggs said. "Everybody's loving him from a distance right now just trying to get him back to dominating and playing at a high level. I know he loves the game of football, and it's all about getting that confidence back. So, I feel like we got him all the way, he knows that. He knows we got his back."
"When I see him in the training room every day, I'm going up to him saying, 'Oh T-White, T-White!'" Jackson said. "When he gets on the field, I do the same thing. But you can just see how he appreciates it. He's shaking his head. He's smiling and stuff like that. So just trying to give him those little things to make him feel like himself."
One of White's biggest supporters suffered a season ending injury this year and sought him out for help, just like the LSU product did when he tore his ACL on Thanksgiving night last year. That supporter is safety Micah Hyde. Hyde says he's fortunate enough to have played with White since 2017 and understands his skillset better than most. There's no doubt in his mind that White will make one hell of a comeback.
"He's gone through a lot, and I'm seeing him come back," Hyde explained. "Seeing him practice brings a tear to my eye because I know he's about to go out there. I think I said a couple months ago that I'll put every dollar on 27. Every dollar I have, I'll put it on him that he's going to come back and be the player he was before. Because that's the confidence I have in him."
Several players, coaches, staff members and fans have gotten to watch White play over the years and understand the true impact he has on his teammates, in the locker room and on the field. They know how much better the Bills are with a healthy Tre'Davious White, and that's why they're standing by his side to cheer him on as he goes back to doing what he loves.