When Gerald McCoy rocked Saints guard Jahari Evans backwards, knifed through the gap and tackled Julius Jones for a 1-yard loss in Tampa Bay’s 31-6 loss to New Orleans, the light came on for the Buccaneers rookie defensive tackle. That was the play where the confusion started to drift away and McCoy finally looked like the dominant three technique tackle at Oklahoma, whom the Bucs used the third overall pick on in the 2010 NFL Draft.
“There has been some confusion on my part, and that has kind of slowed me down” McCoy said. “That’s all on me, though. I’ve sat down and talked to Coach [Raheem Morris] and I have a better understanding of what they want. They made it very clear, but there was some confusion on my part and the confusion slowed me down. That will change completely this week.
“[The confusion surrounded] how they wanted me to play, and they made it very clear. When I went back and talked to Coach he said the exact same thing. I was thinking, ‘Oh, I thought it was this way.’ We weren’t seeing eye-to-eye, but that was my fault because I thought we were clear, but clearly we weren’t.”
McCoy said that he has been playing too tentative through the first six games, and afraid he was going to make a mistake by not maintaining proper gap integrity.
“It was just some confusion on my part and now I can let it go,” McCoy said. “I can do a lot more. The thing about the three technique in the Tampa 2 defense, he can’t be wrong – and everybody else has to read off him. I was thinking that I couldn’t get out of my gap. You just have to go out and play reckless. You have to play smart. You just can’t go out and do anything, but you have to play reckless.
“You can play with structure, but you’ve just got to say, ‘Whatever! I don’t can’t care! I’m going!’ I was playing so, ‘Oh, my God, don’t make a mistake’ instead of making a mistake going 1,000 miles an hour. That’s the difference in what I was doing and that’s the difference in what I will do.”
McCoy went off on a diatribe in the Buccaneers locker room following the loss to the Saints on Sunday, blaming himself for the poor play of the defense. After the game, the tackle for loss of Jones in the fourth quarter was McCoy’s awakening.
“That was the play where I was like, ‘Whatever!’” McCoy said. “It was the end of the game, and if I make a mistake – oh well. We’re getting blasted anyways. I was like, ‘Shoot, get out of my way! I’m going in the A gap!’ I hit him and I just fell in the A gap. Those are the kind of plays that Coach wants. He pointed that out on film. He said, ‘That’s what I want from you all the time. You don’t have to do this at the end of the game. This is what we want right here.’
“When I saw that’s what he wants, I said, ‘I got you, Coach.’ I can relax now and there’s no more thinking. I can breathe now.”
Morris was encouraged by the meeting and is anxious to see McCoy play in his sixth NFL game on Sunday.
“You never know whether the light bulb comes on until you actually get out there, play and do it,” Morris said. “Self-admittedly, he had some confusion about some sort of blocking scheme ... but he'll be fine. He's in his development and he's still young in his development and we're getting there. Hopefully we can see the improvement in that this week.
“He's the three-technique. He's playing Warren Sapp's position. Warren Sapp redefined that position and how you play it, how you get off the ball and the violence you get off the ball with, the up-field push and how you recreate gaps and re-establish the line of scrimmage. He started all that stuff and Gerald is trying to find that happy medium. He did it a little bit in college - not to the extent that you will ask him to do it in the pros. There are different blocking schemes in the pros you have to deal with. He's getting better and better every week.”
Morris had noticed that McCoy was playing with too much tentativeness and hesitation in his game and pointed that out to him this week as he, defensive line coach Todd Wash and McCoy watched the game film from the Saints game together.
“He said you are playing to not make a mistake,” McCoy said. “At OU I did the same thing early on. I didn’t want to make a mistake – take your steps here and stay in your gap. After I got it, I [told the defensive linemen], ‘Look, you all are behind me. You all put me in the three technique for a reason, so you read off me.’”
That means that McCoy has carte blanche to be the disruptive force that legendary defensive tackle Warren Sapp was playing the three technique in the 1990s and early 2000s for Tampa Bay. The other 10 defenders, including middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, will have to play off what McCoy does.
“Barrett even came to me and said, ‘You do your thing and we’ll read off you,’” McCoy said. “That’s one of our captains and the leader of our defense. He said, ‘Do what you do and we’ll read off you. That’s why we flow so fast. We build our speed. If you go underneath, we’re fast enough to get around.’”
Morris showed the young Buccaneers defense film of Sapp and Co. stopping the run on the way to the passer on Wednesday. While McCoy was impressed with the film, he saw an older, more experienced defense shutting down running backs and bringing down quarterbacks.
“We watched how those guys in the prime did it, and we’re going to try to feed off that and go out there and execute it,” McCoy said. “We can’t be those guys. We are who we are. We have a different identity. We just feed off their energy and how they did it. We can’t be them. I can’t be Sapp. I don’t know why people expect me to be. I’m Gerald McCoy. That’s Warren Sapp. I can’t be him. He’s 5-[foot-something]. I’m 6-foot-4. There’s a big difference. I can’t be Sapp. That’s just what it is. We are who we are and that’s who we’ll be.
“We play as a team. We’re going to grow as a family. We’re the [third]-youngest team in the league and we’re going to grow that way. Everybody talks about how the old Bucs did, and blah, blah, blah. That’s fine. They did do it that way, but they grew to that. Sapp wasn’t always Sapp. He picked up on it fast, though. Ronde [Barber] is a Hall of Famer, but he wasn’t always him. [Derrick] Brooks wasn’t always Brooks. [John] Lynch wasn’t always Lynch. Those guys grew to that. That’s the same thing we’re doing. They grew as a family when they were young and then they got older and they just picked up on it. That’s the same thing we’re doing here.”
McCoy has never minded the Sapp comparisons and has plans on being dominant from the three technique position in his own way, but recognizes that it will not happen instantly. It took Sapp three years to become a Pro Bowl-caliber player, and that timetable is not lost on Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 2010.
“It’s a learning process and it’s a growing process,” McCoy said. “Yes, they drafted me this year to make a change, but also it’s like when they drafted Sapp. It’s a growing process to get that way. They brought me here so I can help the team to grow and we can grow together. It’s not going to be an overnight deal.”
But the light appeared to come on for McCoy on Sunday on that tackle for loss. He’s itching to get out there on Sunday now that the confusion is gone and he fully understands what Morris and Wash are looking for from his play.
“Stop thinking, just go play,” McCoy said.
McCoy has yet to record a sack, and what a better game to do it in than Sunday’s contest against the Rams, which features rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, who was his teammate for three years at Oklahoma. But on the way to sack Bradford, McCoy has to stop the run first, just like Sapp and the old Bucs defense did.
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