Facing the prospect of no Gerald McCoy for Sunday’s NFC South showdown with New Orleans, Tampa Bay will be relying on revolving three-technique responsibilities between a mix of defensive linemen, including ends Da’Quan Bowers and Michael Bennett.
“[There’s] Frank Okam inside and [Brian] Price has been in at nose tackle, but you can slide him over as well,” Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris said Wednesday afternoon following practice. “But you also have got Roy Miller who’s done some of that stuff for us in the past. You can always slide guys in like Mike Bennett or Da’Quan Bowers. There are a bunch of different options to go in there and try to fill that role.”
Morris didn’t officially rule out McCoy’s ability to play Sunday, but did not sound especially optimistic about the second-year tackle’s condition after suffering an ankle injury during last week’s 48-3 loss at San Francisco.
“I would have to say it’s not looking great. He didn’t practice today. He’s [dealing with] an ankle [injury]. But it is what it is. I’ve got to find his replacement, but I’ve been there before.”
One of those replacements expects to be Bowers. The 6-foot-4, 277-pound rookie defensive end has spent all his time on the field at the five technique through five games, but said he has previous experience on the interior line and doesn’t see much difference between the two positions.
“I actually started at three technique my first time playing football,” Bowers said. “I played there some in college, but this will be my first shot at it in the NFL. I’m looking forward to it, I’m getting adjusted and I’m getting ready to go. There are going to be some changes made, but it’s an opportunity for a lot of us. George Johnson [the Bucs recently promoted defensive end] got moved up so it’s an opportunity for him to come and make a statement. Going to the three technique and helping out Frank Okam is going to be a big opportunity for myself. We’re going to miss [McCoy’s] presence on the line but we’ve just got to all step up and play tougher and harder.”
“There’s no difference [between three and five technique]. The five technique as a defensive end is almost identical except it’s a spot down. Just transfer all the terminology and you’re good. Definitely with my size and my speed, I have a lot of three technique in here so it’s not going to be a hard transition for me at all. I’m actually looking forward to my first practice, helping out Frank there today.”
Morris said that while Bowers hasn’t specifically been lining up at that interior position this season, he has been assigned with getting inside as part of certain packages.
“He does it a little bit. At the end position, when you play under, he goes inside a little bit. He’s inside of the Sam backer … so we’ve seen him do some of the things before. I’m not necessarily saying he’s going to go full-time in there and [that we’re going to] say, ‘Hey, go take on these two 300 pounders every single snap.’ But you can spell him in there and do some things. You can do some things in the pass rush. He is a big, gigantic human. He looks like a three technique if you walk by him. He can do some of those things in there for us and be explosive like you get from Gerald.”
Bowers and Bennett [6-foot-4, 274-pounds] bring a different set of skills and physique to the three technique position compared to the options of Miller [6-foot-2, 310-pounds], Okam [6-foot-5, 350-pounds] and Price [6-foot-1, 303-pounds] and, as of Wednesday, Morris suggested all available options will be plugged in throughout the game.
“Like I said with LeGarrette Blount, you necessarily can’t fill Gerald’s shoes with just one guy,” Morris said, mentioning the Bucs’ other injured starter from last Sunday. “You’ve got to go out there and do it with different guys and let those guys go out there and play as a unit and play better than the starter.”
Whether it’s off the edge or from inside, Bowers, who played on the interior from time to time last year at Clemson, said the focus for him is always using his speed and quickness to his advantage. “My key is to get off the ball as fast as I can to make plays. If I’m at defensive end or if I’m at three technique, it’s all the same.”
Having to replace McCoy midseason isn’t a new scenario facing Morris and the Buccaneers. McCoy, currently the team’s leader with 13 quarterback pressures, was lost for the remainder of the 2010 season after tearing his left bicep in Week 14. Bennett, the Bucs’ starter at left end since Week 1, and Okam, second behind McCoy on the team’s depth chart, were both tasked with stepping into the role for the final three games of the year. Tampa Bay finished 2-1 over that stretch, including a season-ending 23-13 victory in New Orleans.
“That’s a big hit to our defense,” Bennett said of losing McCoy. “He’s one of the key players on the defensive line, but we have Da’Quan Bowers and he’s like 285 and he’s a quick guy, so it’s going to be a good change up for any team with Frank Okam being 365, like he says. Then if Da’Quan gets a little tired I can go play three technique.”
“Our mantra is next guy up,” Okam said. “This happened last year and I got a chance to play a little bit and try to take advantage of that. We have me and Da’Quan there right now. We’re going to do our best to try and fill this void because he’s our every-down player on the inside. I have different strengths than Gerald has and Quan has some of the similar things that Gerald does pass rushing-wise. So we’ll just mix and match or change to the personnel that they’re doing and try to take advantage of that.”