The first day of the Buccaneers offseason program kicked off on Monday, and Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy recorded his first sack of the season without even taking the field.

In an unexpectedly personal way, McCoy sacked himself, suggesting that he was not a dominant, fourth-quarter playmaker and saying that he hadn’t done enough to lead his team to the playoffs.

Despite being a five-time Pro Bowler, McCoy has never been to the playoffs in his seven seasons in Tampa Bay since becoming the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2010 as the third overall selection. McCoy has 42.5 career sacks and six forced fumbles, but picked apart his own game in a revealing look into his soul during his press conference.

Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Mark Cook/PR

McCoy’s self-reflection began in February at the Pro Bowl in Orlando when talking to a few of his peers in some very frank discussions that caused him to question his level of productivity and his leadership ability.

“I had an opportunity to talk to three very credible people in the offseason and this was at the Pro Bowl – all at different times,” McCoy said. “They all told me the exact same thing about myself – not the team. It wasn’t even about my play. It was just about me as a man and as a leader, and what I need to do moving forward. It hit home to the point where I re-evaluated myself and my whole career up to that point. It wasn’t devastating, but it was a reality check.

“I wouldn’t have listened to them if they were not very credible sources and very successful in the things they’ve done. I’m going to keep them nameless because it was a very private conversation between me and those individuals. The gist of what it is – I haven’t done enough to lead this team. It’s as simple as that. This team goes to the next level … as much as you need a franchise quarterback – and those things are great – this organization, this team, winning a Super Bowl is built on defense. The guy in the middle is what makes everything roll.”

When pressed by reporters, McCoy did not reveal which three people he spoke with that caused such as an inward look at Tampa Bay’s three-technique tackle. But those people did bring up the comparisons to Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

“Of course they brought up 99 (Sapp) to me numerous times,” McCoy said. “Any dominant defense had a dominant guy in the middle. Basically, I just haven’t been enough for my team. Without going into details, I kind of took that personal. It’s something I need to address moving forward. My approach to everything will be different – media, my workouts, practice, meeting room, games. Something has to change. I was just always taught that when more than one person is saying there has to be some truth to it, especially if what they are saying is vey credible. I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching and self-evaluating me. Moving forward, something has got to give. I don’t know what it is going to be or how I’m going to do it, but if the team is going to go to the next level I have to fix a lot of things.

“Great players want to be told the truth, and they told me the truth. I have to accept that. I don’t blow them off. I wrote it down and I’ve been thinking about it since they said it. They said it in the midst of being around the best players in the NFL at the Pro Bowl. For them to say that to me at that time and I’m around all these great players it really hit home. It’s like, ‘You’re here (at the Pro Bowl), but …”

DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

McCoy recorded seven sacks last year after recording back-to-back seasons of 8.5 sacks, but failed to notch a sack in the final four games of the 2016 season in which the Bucs went 2-2 and missed the playoffs by one game after a 9-7 finish. McCoy didn’t notch a single tackle in a 26-20 loss at Dallas in Week 15 and a made just two tackles in a 31-24 loss at New Orleans the next week. That loss essentially ended the Bucs’ postseason aspirations.

“Going into my eighth year I’ve never been to the playoffs,” McCoy said. “I’m not one to point fingers and I’m not one to make excuses. I’m one to go look at all my fourth quarters from the past two years. The great ones make the plays in the fourth quarter. The great ones make those big shots. The great ones make the plays when it’s necessary. If I want to be considered one of those guys when my career is over, that’s what has to be done. I haven’t been watching games or watching film. I’ve been watching my fourth quarters. Where is my energy level in the fourth quarter? Has my technique been dropping in the fourth quarter? Am I making the plays that I need to make in the fourth quarter?

“I have been going to specific games to watch, games that if we win, if I make certain plays we may be in the playoffs – you never know. I’ve never been one to shy away from carrying the load. I’ve been like this since I was a kid – it doesn’t faze me. This is what I’m here for. This is what I truly believe God has made me to be – the guy to carry the load. I just have to figure out how to do it. All the great ones do. If I want to be considered one of those guys when my career is over I have to figure it out. My knees hurt. I’ve played a lot of snaps. I’ve taken on a lot of double-teams. Time is ticking. I have a lot of work to do in a short period of time.”

McCoy just turned 29 in February and feels an increased sense of urgency. Sapp, who serves as McCoy’s mentor, won Super Bowl XXXVII at age 30 in 2002. But the difference is that Sapp made the playoffs in 1997 at age 25 and made the postseason in three other seasons – 1999, 2000 and ’01 – before winning the Lombardi Trophy. Unlike Sapp, McCoy is entering his eighth season and has zero playoff experience.  

When asked how many years he has left to play, McCoy was non-committal but suggested at least five more years. His current, six-year, $95.2 million contract expires in five years in 2021.

Warren Sapp and Brett Favre enjoyed a number of rivalry games – Photo by: Getty Images

Bucs Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp – Photo by: Getty Images

“[Sapp] always taught me to chase the ghosts of the game,” McCoy said. “That simply means the players that came before you. He’s been my measuring stick since I’ve stepped in the league – one, him being my favorite player growing up; two, him being a Buccaneer; three, him being one of five first-ballot D-tackles Hall of Famers. He played 13 years, so at minimum I would like to hit 13, but we’ll see what happens.”

McCoy said he will figure out how to become a more effective leader and player with the goal of become a game-changer in the fourth quarter, and recalled recently speaking with Bucs Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks about Sapp’s effectiveness in that area.

“You never want to pace yourself, but you have to learn how to push your body to its limit when it’s time to,” McCoy said. “[Brooks] told me he would watch Sapp. He knew his mannerisms. He knew his time clock. He knew everything. He knew in the fourth quarter it was Sapp time. He knew that starting the game it was time to go. And he knew that coming out in the second half it took him a second to get back going. But he knew when he could take chances and when he couldn’t – ‘Alright, 99 is about to turn it on because it’s the fourth quarter.’

“Sapp always teaches me there is only one way – and it’s your way. Whatever it takes for you to be at your best. I don’t know what that is yet and how I could get to that point, but I have to. Will I get to that point? I plan to. I don’t plan on letting nothing get in my way.”

The Bucs hope that the addition of former Washington defensive end tackle Chris “Swaggy” Baker in free agency will help McCoy’s pass rush production improve. Baker, a big 320-pound nose tackle has 9.5 sacks over the past two seasons, has good pass rush ability that could give Tampa Bay a needed one-two punch inside and help take away some of McCoy’s double-teams or make teams pay for doubling the Pro Bowler.

“I’m going to get the doubles,” McCoy said. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. When the game is on the line, a sack kills the two-minute drive. An interception is great, but a sack kills the drive. A sack usually means ‘game over’ if you get a sack in the two-minute drive to end the game.

Bucs Gerald McCoy and Will Gholston – Photo by: Getty Images

“It’s reality, and I like being told the truth – ‘G, that wasn’t good enough. It just wasn’t. You didn’t make enough plays against the Saints. If we beat the Saints we’re in the playoffs. If we beat Dallas we’re in the playoffs. It is what it is. It didn’t happen. I didn’t do enough. I’ve got to live with it, deal with it and move forward.”

McCoy also expects second-year defensive end Noah Spence, last year’s second-round draft pick, to improve on his 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles from his rookie season and have “breakout year.”

“He’s been texting me and calling me a lot this offseason. He knows it’s time to take it to the next level going into Year Two. He knows he missed out on a lot of opportunities due to a lot of things that we discussed. I think he’s going to be ready to go. I guess what [the media] calls a breakout year by Noah Spence. He’s going to play a couple of different roles for us and it’s going to be fun to watch. I truly believe it’s going to be a big year for him.”

McCoy’s revelations from Monday’s press conference will only feed some of his critics, who have suggested that he is overrated and doesn’t come through in crunch time. To an extent, McCoy backed up their assertions, but he’s not playing football for his critics.

He’s playing the game for himself, his teammates and coaches and for Tampa Bay. And McCoy admits he wants to learn how to become more effective at what he does.

Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Getty Images

“I just have to find a way to make the plays when necessary,” McCoy said. “It’s not what you guys write about me. It’s not what the fans say. The fans have been trying to get me traded since I got to Tampa. I read everything. I read what you all write. I read what they say, but it doesn’t matter. I’m here.”

McCoy showed up with his teammates on Monday ready to begin working on the 2017 season, but the Bucs need McCoy to show up in the fourth quarter in order to get Tampa Bay in the playoffs.

If he didn’t know that before McCoy certainly does now at age 29. Time is ticking.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at:
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BigSombrero (@bucwild02)
4 years ago

Love to hear that the big fella is motivated to take it to the next level.

I really like that the Bucs brought in Chris Baker this year and Robert Ayers last year. Resign RFA Jacquies Smith. Draft another CB to keep the NFCS WR’s in check and give time to the DL to get to the QB. This line is gonna be nasty.

Starters are Ayers, Baker, McCoy, and J.Smith with Gholston, McDonald, Spence, and Jones rotating in.

Me likey.

Mic (@mic)
4 years ago

They told him needs that dawg in him nothings new, if he brings it expect a different MCcoy next year. Jameis is our leader now

Horse (@horse)
4 years ago

Gerald, a fella by the name of LeeRoy Selmon lead by setting the example with tackles, sacks and double/trible blocking coverages. You’re doing fine; be like LeeRoy. Go Bucs!

cgmaster27 (@cgmaster27)
4 years ago

I hope he kicks some ass for us this year. He’s just echoing everything I’ve been saying about him for the last 2 years. He needs to come through in the 4th, which he never does. I think having Swaggy can only help. but if Gerald does take that next step, then we will be in good shape.

surferdudes (@surferdudes)
4 years ago

I’ve been a McCoy critic from time, to time. Whoever he spoke to is right, the great ones make the plays when it counts. That being said, football is the ultimate team game. There’s 10 other guys on defense who woulda, coulda, shouda. The hero of the super bowl one year was a rookie who made the key interception on the goal line. I like the way you’re thinking Gerald, but it’s not all on you. This TEAM is ready to bust lose. Just do what you can do, the rest will take care of itself.

4 years ago

GMC gets a lot of flack (some deserved) from fans. Sapp was a one of a kind HOF DT. But he also benefitted from playing with Culpepper and then McFarland. Our front took off when Simeon joined the team. We don’t need GMC to be Sapp. He’s very good at doing his job of eating up double teams & disrupting the pocket. What we’ve lacked for years is a dominant DE presence and proper anchor beside McCoy to take advantage of his work. I think we now have that with Baker & fingers crossed that Spence takes the next step.… Read more »

BigSombrero (@bucwild02)
Reply to  RootsCrew
4 years ago

Akeem Spence is no longer with the team. Signed with the Detroit Lions.

Reply to  BucWild02
4 years ago

Good catch. Had a brain fart remembering the roster.

bEubanks11 (@beubanks11)
4 years ago

Not sure who those fans are that have been calling for a trade but it’s not hard to see that this defense would be fu(%$d without McCoy in there. This article brought up two things that have been in the back of my mind and I’m sure in the minds of ownership. Gerald can’t play forever and without him we’d never be better than average. His replacement which is going to be hard to find needs to be a priority in the next few drafts. If there’s someone they think can fill that 3 technique similar to the way McCoy… Read more »

Naplesfan (@naplesfan)
4 years ago

It’s great that Gerald is not satisfied, wants to be and do much more. That attitude if shared throughout the lockerroom by his teammates will make a big difference. But I’m not with the McCoy critics at all. A defensive line works when all parts are working, and we’ve had difficulty for many years with poor defensive lines relying far too much on one man to do the work of all. We’ve had lack of talent and clearly busted players on the D-line … we’ve had absolutely rotten defensive coaching until last year … and we’ve had a lot of… Read more »

MWD (@mikewestdominguez)
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

I have to agree with you Naples, 10 other guys on the defense to include the other D-lineman. I think the real issue is we, meaning the organization has done a poor job at building a consistent supporting line around GMC. The addition of Baker was good and I do believe Spence will continue to improve, but again, fairly new pieces around him in the grand scheme of things. As you mentioned, depth at the D-line has also been an issue that also impacts everything as a whole in regards to production. A few people commented on Sapp, and yes,… Read more »

Naplesfan (@naplesfan)
Reply to  Michael WestDominguez
4 years ago

Yep – also, our offense in those days of the late 90s/early 00s were clearly built to operate as ball control offenses. We had good run blocking and great runners, referred to as “Thunder and Lightning” (Alstott and Dunn) who came into their own in the fourth quarter, hogging the ball and demoralizing defenses. That also helps keep our own D-linemen fresh late in games. We haven’t had that in a long time.

e (@e)
4 years ago

Love the accountability. The first step to being that leader.

SappAttack (@derekmitchellmay)
4 years ago

Damn, shots fired… at himself! Love it, you’re off my shitlist now. Go F’ing dominate now.

fredster (@fredster)
4 years ago

I’ve been a critic of his at times and I’m glad he sees opportunity and wishes to address it. He is who he is but always thought he just needs to get more serious and little more attitude. You can be a Christian and still have fire and passion and get in somebodys face if they aren’t doing what they need to. A leader has to kick ass and chew ass sometimes. His injuries have been annoying too. Again is what it is in that respect too. Unlucky or whatever Sapp didn’t have these issues.

Iowabucfan (@iabucfan)
4 years ago

This is why I am glad GMC is on the Buccaneers. He is one of the leaders on defense and he wants to get better. Jameis, the leader on offense, wants to get better. Team mates better be ready to keep up. How can you not be excited about this team! Go Bucs!

drdneast (@drdneast)
4 years ago

For years I defended McCoy and cited Lee Roy Selmon as one of those players who didn’t have to be a mean SOB like Sapp to perform at a high level in the league. Unfortunately the NFL has changed since Selmon’s days and it takes a different type of cat to play in the trenches nowadays, McCoy has always been an enigma in that regards. He has stated it is the competition that ignites his fire, but in the fourth quarter you have to want to do more than just be better than the man in front of you, you… Read more »

Naplesfan (@naplesfan)
Reply to  drdneast
4 years ago

Sapp was nasty and loud, sure, as a matter of style and personality. But Brooks wasn’t, not like Sapp. He ended up in the Hall of Fame too. Ronde Barber wasn’t nasty. Neither was Simeon Rice. Or John Lynch (he hit nasty, but his style was anything but).

It doesn’t take a personality like Sapps to be an effective D-lineman. Most of the great ones, including guys like the late Reggie White, were gentlemen on and off the field, but effective in their performance.

scubog (@scubog)
4 years ago

Gerald got some good advice. The great ones do seem to come through when it matters most. As Horse noted, Lee Roy would flip a switch as did Sapp, Brooks and others. But for me the one Buc player who always came through at crunch time was Ronde. It’s always Ronde.