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.
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.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com 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: email@example.com
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