Being the third overall draft pick in the NFL draft brings many things, like money, notoriety and fame. But the one thing that being a first-round pick probably brings more than anything is expectations.
Through his rookie season and the first four games of 2011, no Buccaneers player has taken more criticism than defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. From sports radio hosts, to those on Internet message boards like the ones on PewterReport.com, the third overall pick in the 2010 draft has had his fair – or not-so-fair – share of abuse.
Why McCoy is suddenly starting to come on as a player is up for debate, but in McCoy’s mind there is one reason and one only.
“People ask me, ‘Why doesn’t the criticism bother you anymore?’ McCoy said. “Last year I was playing for all the wrong reasons. I was playing to not make a mistake, playing to live up to the expectations of Warren Sapp and Mr. [Lee Roy] Selmon – all wrong reasons. After I got hurt late in the season I kind of got a revelation: ‘Gerald, you aren’t living the life the way you are supposed to be.’
“Not that I was living bad, but I wasn’t living my life for the Lord 100 percent. So when I was playing, I was playing for the Lord, but I wasn’t giving my all for Him. It was like, you don’t want this person talking bad about you, you don’t want the media … this year all glory goes to God and everything I do is for Him. The Bible says 'Do all that you do with all your heart unto the Lord. Because you do it for Him, not to please human masters.'
“That is the difference. And that’s how I deal with the media and expectations and all that. I don’t pay attention [to the media or negativity]. As long as I feel like I am giving all to the Lord, that is all that matters to me.”
Defensive line coach Keith Millard didn’t comment on the religious angle but told PewterReport.com that McCoy, along with the entire defensive line, are finally starting to get what the coaches have been preaching.
“For the last couple weeks they are starting to feel what we want,” Millard said. “The light is starting to come on, so to speak. We still aren't where we are going, but we are on our way and definitely starting to see progress the last couple weeks. Each week has gotten better. They are seeing it on film and are starting to see it and feel it. It’s all starting to fall into place. We talk about in this league you have to play with a nasty disposition. You have to play angry, but with a calm mind. It’s not fun and games. It’s trench warfare out there.
“We had a little heart-to-heart in our meeting last week. It wasn’t nice, but there were a few players in there I was trying to drive that through to. It’s not nice-guy game. You are all great guys. God-loving people. I would have you over to my house and you could date my daughter. But I don’t want that person on game day. And that is the bottom line.”
Tampa Bay’s starting defensive tackle has taken Millard’s words to heart.
“They say when you are playing for the Lord you should be the most vicious player out there,” McCoy laughed. “So I’m out there just tying to kill everybody out there in front of me.
“Everybody is starting to play angry. That is something I said early in camp is he (Millard) has changed our mentality. He said you guys have to be angry and vicious and strong-willed to get there.”
In the last two games McCoy has done enough to quell the critics, at least temporarily. Against the Colts on Monday night, McCoy had arguably his best game as a Buccaneer with six tackles, one sack and three tackles for loss. On the season, the former Sooner has 10 tackles, one sack, four tackles for a loss and is leading Tampa Bay with 13 quarterback pressures.
Millard says the work McCoy has put in is starting to pay off.
“He’s coming, I mean he is coming,” Millard said. “He is very disruptive right now. Everything he should have been and they drafted him to be – it’s coming. He is growing as well – he is still a young player in the NFL—he is taking the proper steps, and each step he takes he is getting better and better. Each time he has success based on what he has learned and what he has worked on motivates him to work harder and to keep going. And that is right where you want him. You see it every week. He is a huge factor in what we are doing.”
“Having a year under my belt I now know how the game is played,” McCoy said. “I’m still getting better and still learning. I don’t think you become a veteran until your third or fourth year. Your first year you experience some things, then your second year you experience the same things, but you know how to fix them.”
Teammate Adrian Clayborn is one who appreciates having McCoy as a mentor.
“He makes everything a little bit easier because he has been through it recently,” Clayborn said. “Going through those first two games and not having any sacks and kind of struggling to get a grasp of the game mentally, and having him there after games to tell me what to do and focus on for the next week. He knows what the feeling is like.
“He is not a selfish guy at all. When I got my first sack, he was the first guy to congratulate me. That is just the type of person he is both on and off the field.”
McCoy said the “walk of faith” isn’t an easy road although he never expected it to be. But the inner peace he has found helps him.
“Last year I was trying to be somebody I wasn’t. I came into all this money and this new league. Just trying to be somebody I’m not. I realize you are supposed to be different. You have to dare to be different. You have to be willing to pay the price to not be in the 'in crowd.'
“It is definitely hard to do. You don’t want to feel like an outcast. You want to be part of the 'in crowd.' Most people on this team come from their respective schools where they are the stars on the teams. They are just used to being popular. Sometimes when you do things the right way – there aren’t very many people (in this world) doing that – so you have to find a group of guys who are doing the same things you are doing. It is hard sometimes because you can be an outcast. But it is worth it in the end.”
McCoy said having teammates with a similar faith helps him stay grounded and they all share the same bond.
“Adam Hayward, Roy Miller, Frank Okam, Corey Lynch, Demar Dotson, Micheal Spurlock, Mosis Madu, Michael Koenen, Sean Jones, Derek Hardman and Dekoda Watson,” McCoy named. "They are all guys you see in there [chapel] faithfully."
Lynch has seen McCoy grow as a person since his rookie season.
“I’ve seen him mature a lot over the past year,” Lynch said. “As a rookie you come in as a first-round draft pick and you have so many expectations. You want everyone to like you.
“This year he is kind of like, ‘I don’t really care who likes me, I just want to play for God.’ And he has been dominating on the field. It’s a good thing to see it come to pass in how he is playing on the field and how he is living off the field.”
While McCoy, like any player, wants to leave a legacy on the turf, McCoy says there are more important things to be your final testimony.
“People ask me to how do you deal with the comparisons to Mr. Selmon,” McCoy said. “I told them if I want to be compared to Mr. Selmon, then I want to be compared to what he did off the field. And what he did for other people and how he lived his life.”