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April 23, 2010 @ 3:15 am
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Culpepper: Don't Expect McCoy To Dominate As A Rookie

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From Pewter Report's 2010 Bucs Draft Preview digital magazine, former Bucs nose tackle Brad Culpepper explains in his Pep Talk column that Tampa Bay fans not to expect dominance right away from the likes of Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh as it takes time to learn how to play defensive tackle in the NFL.
Copyright 2010 PewterReport.com

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Brad Culpepper's Pep Talk column from Pewter Report's 2010 Bucs Draft Preview was written before Tampa Bay selected Gerald McCoy, but details the uphill battle both he and Ndamukong Suh will face as rookie defensive tackles in the NFL.

With Tampa Bay having the third pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, chances are the Buccaneers will draft one of this year’s top two defensive tackles – Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy. The Bucs haven’t had a quality three-technique tackle since Warren Sapp left in 2004 and the defense Raheem Morris is running, which is an offshoot of Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2, won’t work with a stud in the middle.

But don’t get too excited over Suh or McCoy because neither one of those guys is going to be a stud as a rookie season.

Sapp arrived in Tampa Bay in the 1995 draft, and struggled as a rookie. He made some strides in 1996, but the light bulb didn’t really come on until ’97. Sapp and I played together starting in ’95 when we were both backing up Santana Dotson and Mark Wheeler. We were quite productive and the team wound up letting both of those guys go.

Sapp and I became starters in ’96 during Tony Dungy’s first year, but we were still learning how to play our positions that year. The season opener in 1997 against the San Francisco 49ers was the game where we both got it. Sapp figured it out. We both had watched a lot of practice from the year before and we were making strides in training camp and the preseason. We started to understand the system and feed off each other.

Nobody expected us to dominate San Francisco like we did. That game turned out to be Sapp’s coming out party. He had 2.5 sacks and knocked Jerry Rice out of the game on the reverse. I had half a sack that day and we were just humming. Once you get confidence as a defensive tackle, you’ve got it for good.

Players like Suh and McCoy – they think they have confidence, but they have none. They will get beat down to nothing in the NFL. That’s what our defensive line coach, Rod Marinelli, did with us. He beat us down to nothing and then built us back up. Once you get built back up and have true confidence in your abilities as a defensive lineman, then you are tough to beat.

That’s what happened with Sapp against San Francisco. He got all of his confidence in that game and he just took off and became a Hall of Famer.

Suh and McCoy will figure out that playing defensive tackle in the pros is nothing like it was in college. Not only are you getting hit with so much stuff in terms of going against different offenses and you might be playing a different defense from the one you played in college, but you are going against superior athletes.

The offensive guard in the pros is so far superior to offensive guards in college. You can just straight whip a guy in college. You aren’t going to really whip many guys in the pros. It just doesn’t happen.

You have to play smart. You have to be able to feel what’s happening in the trenches. There are probably six different styles of blocks that an offensive lineman can give a defensive tackle. He can reach block you. He can scoop block you. He can cut block you. He can turn-back-protection block you. Young defensive tackles just start thinking too much when they come into the league to really have a lot of initial success.

Until you start being reactive and until you can feel where the blocks are coming from and play football with your eyes closed (like Mr. Miyagi did when he blindfolded Daniel in the Karate Kid), you’re not going to get it. As a rookie, you don’t even know what you don’t know yet. You are getting hit with so many things at once – literally.

It’s tough to learn that when the ball is snapped that the guy in front of you isn’t hitting you. Somebody else is. You’re thinking, “Okay, I’ve got a move that is going to beat this guard in front of me.” The next thing you know, the tackle is hitting you – not the guard. Then on the next play, it’s the center instead of the guard and you are thinking, “Wait a minute! Whom am I going against?”

You feel like you are lost out there. I felt that way and I know Sapp felt that way too until we both figured out how to play in the NFL.

Playing defensive line is like being in a fistfight every snap, but you have different people hitting you. It’s hard to defend yourself and be aggressive when you aren’t quite sure what is happening.

As a cornerback, you are on an island. You have to cover the receiver in front of you. As a running back, you have to hit the hole and follow your blocks. Even as a quarterback, you’ve got your specific reads. That’s why those types of players can come in and have some success as rookies.

As a defensive tackle, you’ve got to keep your assignments straight. If the guy you are supposed to block pulls, you have to do something else. If the guy you are supposed to block steps down, you are supposed to do something else. If it’s a run play, you have this assignment. If it’s a pass play, you have that assignment.

You don’t know what your true responsibility is on a given play until the ball is snapped and then you have a split second to understand what you need to do and do it. With pretty much every other position, you know what you are supposed to do before the ball is snapped.

There are more defensive tackles that fail than succeed. The ones that fail are the ones that just don’t get it. In Tampa, I wouldn’t target Anthony McFarland so much as I would Marcus Jones. I don’t think he ever got it. Jones had one good year as a defensive end, but he never understood what it takes to play inside. If you would ask him what playing inside was like he would probably say, “Hell!”

There have been plenty of defensive tackles that just didn’t get it – Dewayne Robertson, Jonathan Sullivan, Ryan Sims, Wendall Bryant among others – and they just become mediocre and never excel and live up to their talent. They didn’t get it and didn’t achieve the confidence, or their skill set was overrated to begin with. A lot is being asked at that position, and if someone doesn’t have the leverage, strength or speed as a football player to do what is necessary, you aren’t going to be dominant.

Let’s hope that which either defensive tackle winds up in Tampa Bay – Suh or McCoy – eventually becomes dominant. But don’t expect it to happen during his rookie season.

To read more of Culpepper's insight each month in Pewter Report's digital magazine, subscribe today for just $10 per year (over 200 premium stories + access to 10 digital issues) by calling 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) or by clicking here.

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