SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL:
FAB 1. ATHLETIC RANKINS FILLS A NEED AT DT FOR BUCS
The defensive tackle position is near and dear to Jason Licht’s heart. After all, Tampa Bay’s general manager was an All-Conference defensive tackle for two years at Nebraska-Wesleyan University after transferring from Nebraska in 1992. The first mega contract extension he negotiated was for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
Why in a draft that is deep in defensive tackles would the Bucs take one with the ninth overall pick, while a pass-rushing defensive end or a cornerback would fill a more obvious need? Understand that Licht doesn’t like drafting for need, especially in the first round, unless the best player available aligns with the Bucs’ most pressing need – as was the case last year with quarterback Jameis Winston.
“The perceived needs that we have according to the public – some of them [our thoughts] are in alignment with,” Licht told me at the Senior Bowl. “We also are still kind of going through a re-evaluation of our roster, how that aligns with our coaching staff, and what they feel like their perceived needs are. Defense is something we need to bolster, there’s no question about it and a lot of different positions. This happens to be a very strong defensive draft, too, in my opinion.
“But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to, at number nine, definitely draft whatever position that is, defensively, because we can’t force ourselves [into someone] and I always hate to force a pick. Anytime I’ve been somewhere that a pick was forced it rarely works out – the guy’s never as good as you think he is or doesn’t work out, so that’s just not going to be the case.”
Based on what I know, the Bucs like Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, but don’t love him enough to take him with the ninth overall draft pick. The NFL is all about match-ups and at 5-foot-10 with 4.5 speed, Hargreaves isn’t an ideal match-up against the likes of Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin and Devon Funchess – all of whom are at least 6-foot-4. It would be tough to spend a top 10 pick on player that may be better suited inside as a nickel corner.
Tampa Bay likes Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence and Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, but doesn’t feel that either is a top 10 talent. There are some concerns about Spence’s character and reports that he didn’t interview well at the NFL Scouting Combine. And while he had a good showing athletically outside of his 4.8 in the 40-yard dash, Spence isn’t an elite athlete like Von Miller or Khalil Mack.
Lawson is viewed as a slightly more athletic version of Adrian Clayborn. He’s a productive power player that lacks twitch and ideal conditioning. But how much did he benefit from playing opposite fellow first-round pick Kevin Dodd at Clemson in 2015 when he exploded statistically?
While Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah showed off some freakish athleticism in Indianapolis, he’s regarded as a late first-round, early second-round guy because of inconsistent effort and results. Ogbah is raw as a pass rusher and needs to develop more than just a rip move to be successful in the NFL.
I think there are defensive ends the Bucs like better further down in the draft that represent more value based on when they are selected, and I’ve got two in PewterReport.com’s latest 2016 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, which was published on Thursday, in Boise State’s Kamalei Correa and Stony Brook’s Victor Ochi. There are others for sure.
If Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner and Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley are off the board before the Bucs select at number nine, which is highly probable, I would expect that Licht would attempt to trade down to acquire more picks. If he can’t and has to stick and pick, Rankins would be an ideal fit in Tampa Bay for a myriad of reasons.
First, let’s start with the production. Rankins finished his Louisville career with 133 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 18 sacks, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, including one he returned 46 yards for a score against Boston College. Over the last two years, Rankins has posted 26.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown.
That’s incredible production for a defensive tackle, especially against the pass that no other defensive tackle at the FBS can match. Pro Football Focus, which ranked the Cardinals star as the second-most productive interior rusher in 2014 and the 16th-best last year, has Rankins going 10th overall to the New York Giants in its latest mock draft. PFF also has the Bucs passing on Spence and Lawson and selecting Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman with the ninth overall selection, which is rather curious.
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks have Rankins going to New Orleans with the 12th overall pick. Rankins was their first defensive tackle off the board. There just aren’t any other defensive tackles in Rankins’ class in terms of pass rush production – not Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche, nor Baylor’s Andrew Billings, nor Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler, nor UCLA’s Kenny Clark, nor any of Alabama’s first-round defensive linemen. Rankins’ ability to get after the quarterback is special.
Next, let’s look at Rankins’ athleticism, which isn’t as freakish as Pro Bowler Aaron Donald’s, but it’s certainly comparable to that of Tennessee Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. Rankins measured 6-foot-1, 299 pounds in Indianapolis, while Casey weighed in at 300 pounds, while also standing 6-foot-1. Rankins has the arm length of a 6-foot-4 man at 33 3/8 inches, which are longer than Casey’s 32-inch arms.
As you’ll see below, Rankins beat Casey in every athletic category at the NFL Scouting Combine:
Rankins may not be in the same realm as Donald, who ran a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash and had 35 reps on the bench press, but few are. Yet he’s 15 pounds heavier than Donald and compares more favorably athletically to Casey and Cincinnati Pro Bowler Geno Atkins, another undersized 6-foot-1, 300-pounder. It’s interesting to point out that Atkins became a four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle on Jay Hayes’ watch, and he’s Tampa Bay’s new defensive line coach, replacing Joe Cullen.
Former NFL safety and Bleacher Report NFL analyst Matt Bowen is a colleague whose opinion I trust quite a bit. This is what he had to say about Rankins in a recent interview with the Courier-Journal about the Louisville defender’s performance at the Senior Bowl.
Louisville DT Sheldon Rankins – Photo by: Eric Dellaratta/PR
“The great thing about the Senior Bowl – and I’ve been going for years – is that those defensive linemen, you can tell in the first five minutes, who the guy is,” said Bowen. “A couple years ago it was Aaron Donald. I said, ‘Oh my God, look at him come off the football, look at his hands, look how quick he is, look at how many plays he’s making.’ With Rankins, I don’t want to say he had the same week as Aaron Donald, but he had the type of week where you said, ‘Man, this guy can play.’ He’s explosive, he’s fast, he’s super-competitive. And that’s one of the great things about the Senior Bowl is you can see if you want to compete. You’re not going to win every drill. These are the best seniors in the country. They’re all great football players. They’re all going in the NFL. And Sheldon, man, he whipped some guys down there. His one-on-one pass rushing was amazing. During team drills, he was making plays. At times he’s living in the backfield. I think he really improved his draft stock, and ultimately he made a lot of money down there.
“Going into the Senior Bowl, he was mentioned as a possible first-round pick. Coming out of the Senior Bowl, you’re talking that this guy might be top-15. Because that’s all it takes. They want to see you in those settings, see you compete, and when you take over like that, you can’t ignore it. He’s got the size. I think he can play in multiple fronts, and most importantly, what everyone is looking for now is interior pressure. Look at the Denver Broncos with Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe. That’s interior pressure. They’re always talking about (DeMarcus) Ware and (Von) Miller understandably. (But) they won a Super Bowl because of those two guys inside because they would push the pocket. Carolina had one, too – Kawann Short. He had 11 sacks; that’s a huge number. (Cincinnati’s) Geno Atkins, guys like that, that’s who you want to find. Those guys are so hard to find. In this draft there are quite a few of them, but Rankins? If I’m at No. 11 with the Chicago Bears, am I going to really pass him up? You start looking around and say, ‘Well, are we ever going to be able to find another player like this?’ So he’s a special player.”
Casey was a third-round pick and Atkins was a fourth-round pick. South Carolina State defensive tackle Javon Hargrave has the traits to be special, too, but I’m not sure Licht and the Bucs could pass on the chance to draft Rankins and pair him next to McCoy. Yet why would Tampa Bay want to draft another defensive tackle when it already has a Pro Bowler in McCoy signed through 2021?
That leads us to the final reason why Rankins would be an ideal fit in Tampa Bay. There is nothing wrong with having two stellar defensive tackles, either. St. Louis spent a first-round draft pick on Michael Brockers in 2012 and then came back and drafted Aaron Donald in the first round two years later in ’14. Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith had a pair of Pro Bowl defensive tackles in Marcus Stroud and John Henderson when he was the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville from 2003-07.
Who better to mentor Rankins than McCoy, who is a mentoring type of player to begin with? While better suited to play three-technique or nose tackle in a 4-3, Rankins has incredible versatility as he has played both of those positions in addition to playing a zero-technique nose in a 3-4 scheme, as well as a five-technique defensive end in both a 3-4 and 4-3 schemes.
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Because he plays so hard McCoy has only started all 16 games in two of his six seasons in Tampa Bay, and has missed four games over the past two years due to injury. Having a player like Rankins that can either play beside him or replace him at the three-technique without a tremendous drop off in talent is of great benefit to the Bucs.
Remember that Licht signed free agent veteran defensive tackles Henry Melton and Tony McDaniel to one-year contracts in 2015 just a year after signing McDonald to a sizable contract and stockpiled talent at the position. There’s a reason for that. He believes in having strength up the middle of the defense – not just for stopping the run, but also for collapsing the pocket against the pass. With the first defensive objective of every game being to stop the run, an NFL team cannot have enough quality defensive tackles.
With Melton and McDaniel not expected to be re-signed, with McDonald coming off injured reserve after tearing a pectoral muscle and with Akeem Spence entering a contract year, one could make an argument that defensive tackle is just as big of a need as defensive end and cornerback in this year’s draft. Aside from McCoy, McDonald and Spence, the only other defensive tackles on Tampa Bay’s roster are Da’Quan Bowers and newcomers Davon Coleman and Derrick Lott.
After reviewing all of the circumstances, Rankins isn’t a reach at all for the Bucs. In fact, you could say the Bucs actually need him.
FAB 2. RANKINS WANTS TO PLAY ALONGSIDE McCOY, WINSTON
Interviews are a big part of the draft evaluation process for NFL teams. If a quarterback seems timid and won’t make eye contact with a general manager who might be interested in drafting him, how will that quarterback react when it’s time to stand in a huddle of NFL players and command their attention? How will that quarterback react when he has a big 300-pound defensive lineman staring him down at the line of scrimmage?
How will a kid that comes from poverty handle being an instant millionaire after the draft? Is there a support system of family and friends for the player to lean on for advice, or is there a group of homeboys with their hands out for a chunk of his change?
How will a player that has never been asked to play special teams handle covering kicks and punts at the next level as a rookie? Is he excited to help the team any way he can or does he look down upon special teams as a stepping stone to get playing time on offense or defense?
Rams DT Aaron Donald – Photo by: Getty Images
First impressions mean a lot in the NFL, especially at One Buccaneer Place, and I had the chance to interview Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins at the Reese’s Senior Bowl where he dominated before a minor leg injury ended his week early. My questions weren’t terribly hard hitting, nor were they “gotcha” questions that were trying to trip him up or get some great scoop.
I just wanted to get a feel for a guy that I felt back in January the Bucs might be interested in. I started off with whose game he emulates.
“I would say Jurrell Casey, Aaron Donald, and Geno Atkins,” Rankins said. “They are around my size, which is a coincidence. Those are some guys that I watch.”
I told him how Bucs’ Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp wasn’t much bigger than Rankins and his eyes lit up. I told him that Sapp would always say that he was already at pad level being 6-foot-2.
“It definitely helps me when I’m going against some longer and taller guys,” Rankins said. “I always say, ‘You’ve got to come down here and fight me because this is my space. Low man wins.’ People try to knock me for my height, but it’s something I can’t control. So I just go out and play my game and play the best I can.”
Rankins won’t turn 22 until March, and admits he’s more familiar with Gerald McCoy than he is with Sapp, who retired from the NFL in 2007, as Rankins was only 14 years old at the time. He would love the opportunity to play with McCoy and go against quarterback Jameis Winston – again.
“I sacked Jameis my junior season,” Rankins said, recalling Louisville’s 42-31 home loss to Florida State on ESPN’s Thursday Night College Football. Winston struggled early on, throwing three first half interceptions as the Cardinals built a 21-0 lead in the second quarter, only to see Winston and the Seminoles rally with 35 points in the second half, including 21 points in the fourth quarter, in a game that Bucs general manager Jason Licht attended.
“Playing with a great guy like Gerald McCoy, who demands so much attention and he’s one of the most productive defensive tackles in the league, and competing against Jameis everyday would be tremendous,” Rankins. “Jameis is a true competitor. I found that out playing against him. So being able to be in the same locker room and to be brought up with guys like that would be tremendous.”
Rankins is just like any NFL Draft prospect right now. They’re so close to realizing their childhood dreams that they’re happy to be drafted by any team. But I got a sense that Rankins truly wanted to be a Buccaneer, especially when I told him that new defensive coordinator Mike Smith liked to a run a multiple defensive front with 4-3 and 3-4 looks. That’s when Rankins’ smile got a bit wider.
“Man, I feel like I am suited to do a lot of things,” Rankins said. “I have experience playing three-technique, one-technique, five-technique, 4-3 and 3-4 schemes. I can do it all. It’s something I know I can do. It’s all about being put in the right situations to go out there and be successful.
“I bring versatility. When a team signs me, I can play multiple positions, so they can go sign another guy instead of bringing in another lineman. Because I can do so much they don’t need to spend extra money on another lineman.”
Yes, Rankins is very intelligent and quite the forward thinker.
“You’re going to get somebody that likes to come to work everyday,” Rankins said. “I don’t complain about football practice because it’s what I want to do. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I love practice and I definitely love getting better. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed because I take this game so seriously.”
After our brief, 10-minute interview I found out that’s who Rankins is. He’s very serious about the game of football. He’s serious about his craft, and he was serious about putting on a show at the Senior Bowl with his lightning quick hands, destroying several offensive linemen in 1-on-1 pass rush drills during Tuesday and Wednesday practices.
Louisville DT Sheldon Rankins – Photo by: Eric Dellaratta/PR
Rankins is a polished pass rusher and has a wide array of moves, including a club-rip, a spin move, a long-arm and a deadly arm-over move. What made Sapp special wasn’t just his lightning quick first step. It was the fact that his hands would fire as fast as his feet. Rankins’ hands are impressive, but he wants to take them to another level.
“Being a shorter guy, I have to get my hands on them as quick as I can,” Rankins. “I have to get into my plan against them before their length can take over. Then I’m playing their game. Coming into college, my defensive line coach always ingrained in me, ‘Hands, hands, hands.’ You can’t play defensive line without your hands. It’s always been something that’s been drilled into me.
“I’m still going to continue to work on my hands, my pass-rush moves and my run fits in terms of how I want to fit the run and get off blocks against certain runs. I want to constantly improve on every facet of my game.”
Adding an athletic, pass-rushing defensive tackle like Rankins next to McCoy would improve every facet of Tampa Bay’s defense.
FAB 3. SPENCE PRIMED FOR A BIG YEAR, POSSIBLE BIG PAY DAY
Tampa Bay’s four-game collapse at the end of the 2015 season wasn’t just the result of missing wide receiver Vincent Jackson and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander. There was another player that was missing for part of that stretch was nose tackle Akeem Spence, who was playing some of his best football since returning from a back injury that caused him to miss the first six weeks of the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.
Nose tackles rarely get much acclaim, nor do they get light up the stats sheet. But their constant drawing of double teams helps defensive ends, three-technique defensive tackles and linebackers make their plays.
Good nose tackles are also getting paid, too. Sportac suggests that 26-year old San Francisco nose tackle Ian Williams would receive a four-year deal worth $7.88 million. That’s pretty good for a 6-foot-1, 305-pounder that has played in 30 games over five seasons with 91 career tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery.
Bucs NT Akeem Spence – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Compare those stats with those of Spence, who is entering a contract year and has recorded 79 tackles, five sacks and three fumble recoveries in 40 games over the past three years. There’s a lot at stake this year for Spence, who is entering his fourth year in the league at the very young age of 24.
“I’m still scratching the surface of my game, but I don’t feel 24,” Spence said. “I’ve been in it for three years now and my body is a little beat up. I’m still young, though.”
After two years as a part-time starter, Spence missed eight games last year, including the last two and half games of the 2015 season.
“It was definitely frustrating missing training camp and the start of the season, but it was my back so it was something I didn’t want to rush back from,” Spence said. “The team definitely did what was in my best interest, but it was frustrating. The plan was to have me, Gerald [McCoy], Clinton [McDonald] and Henry [Melton] all in a four-man rotation to create that force that we needed inside.
“Then with me being down for six weeks and then Clinton being down when I came back, it was tough. Some weeks I traveled with the team and I would watch from the sidelines and that was hard. Then I got injured against St. Louis on that Thursday night game and we just became injured-riddled down the stretch.”
Spence missed the season finale at Carolina, a 38-17 drubbing at the hands of NFL MVP Cam Newton and the eventual NFC champion Panthers. That marked the third straight year in which the Panthers swept the Bucs. Unfortunately for Spence he missed both games against Carolina last year.
“They won the division the last couple of years,” Spence said. “They have been the top dog in the NFC South. They have a good team coming back, so they are loaded up again. I’m anxious to see what we do in the draft. It’s going to take a team effort to shut them down. We have to bring our ‘A’ game against Cam Newton. He’s the MVP.
“I would love to sack Cam,” Spence said. “I didn’t get the chance to play him this year. [Former Bucs defensive line coach] Joe [Cullen] made me a pass rusher. That’s all we talked about – stopping the run on the way to the quarterback. We worked on our pass rush every day. I didn’t get a lot of opportunity this year on third down, but I tried to get pressure when I could.”
Bucs NT Akeem Spence – Photo by: Getty Images
Spence’s first career sack came during his rookie season against New England’s future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. He recorded a career-high three sacks in 2014, including a takedown of New Orleans’ future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Spence’s lone sack last year came against Matt Hasselbeck in Indianapolis, but he feels like his pass rush has come a long way since dropping Brady in 2013 thanks to Cullen’s tutelage.
“Joe took my game to the next level,” Spence said. “He brought a hard-nosed mentality to work every day because he’s a hard-nosed coach. He doesn’t back down and he doesn’t care who you are. He’s in your face. He’s that type of guy. When he came to Tampa he taught us football – not just D-line. It was more than just pass rush. He taught us what to look for from offensive linemen, personnel and formations. Hearing him talking about the defense, this guy could be a coordinator somewhere. He has a lot of crazy knowledge about the game. I loved having him as a coach.”
Spence and his teammates are fortunate to have long-time veteran defensive line coach Jay Hayes, who comes from Cincinnati, as Cullen’s replacement.
“I actually remember meeting Coach Hayes at the Combine when I was coming out,” Spence said. “He’s a very energetic guy. He’s a little different from Joe, but he had a lot of great success in Cincinnati with our guy Michael Johnson and all those guys from Cincinnati like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. I’m very excited about what he brings to the table.”
Spence is also excited to have a new defensive coordinator in Mike Smith that will run a new “multiple” defense that will feature both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts. Here’s what Spence told me in last week’s SR’s Fab 5 column.
“The Tampa 2 defense, it’s a tough defense to play in,” Spence said. “They had success in that defense with Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp and those guys. But it depends on all 11 guys doing their job perfectly at the same time, all the time – down in and down out. This is the NFL, and that’s hard to do. Guys are going to make mistakes. It was predictable. It’s time for a change, and change is rarely a bad thing.
“I’m very excited to have Coach Koetter. He helped our offense explode. We had the second-leading running back in the NFL and a rookie quarterback throw for over 4,000 yards. He has our offense heading in the right direction. As a coach, he’s a player’s coach. Being around the building the last few days and meeting Coach [Mike] Smith, I feel like we’re really heading in the right direction.”
Although Spence has never played in a 3-4 scheme, he’s seen how the landscape has shifted around the NFL, especially with the Denver Broncos using that defense to beat Carolina and win Super Bowl 50.
Bucs NT Akeem Spence – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“I’ve been blessed with great strength,” Spence said. “I’ve never been in a 3-4, but seeing smaller guys like Casey Hampton back in the day – guys around my size – that I know I can get it done and play nose in a 3-4. That’s why I’m so excited about this defense. I’m not going to be shaded all the time. I’m going to be playing the zero, sometimes playing the three and playing the two. Coach Smith is going to give teams lots of looks and I’m very excited – very excited. At the same time, I’m excited to compete with Clint and Gerald. Those two guys are going to bring it come camp time. I’ll be ready.”
The 29-year old McDonald, the team’s starting nose tackle and a team captain, knows he’ll have a fight on his hands in training camp.
“Akeem and I play off each other,” McDonald said. “We kind of mirror each other, but we also bring different things to the table. Akeem is a bigger guy, but at the same time he has the endurance and the strength to play the game. Akeem is raising his level of play each year and he’s growing into the player he wants to be.”
Spence is not only playing for the right to unseat McDonald as the starting nose tackle this year. He’s playing for a significant pay raise in Tampa Bay or elsewhere in 2017. He made it clear to me that his first desire is to remain a Buccaneer.
“Gerald is going on his seventh year and he’s been through the ups and downs here,” Spence said. “I’m in my fourth year and I’m on my third head coach. Guys like Gerald, Lavonte David and I, we’ve been fighting down here try to claw our way up. We’ve got the offensive side of the ball right. We have our franchise quarterback now. We have big-time receivers and we have our running backs. I know [fellow 2017 free agent] Will [Gholston] and I want to be a part of that and win for this city.
“The first goal is to get to training camp and compete with Clint for the starting job. I want to be ready for a playoff push because I feel like we are on the verge. I want to put my best year together, stay healthy and make plays for this team.”
And by doing so, Spence will be making a play for a big pay day in 2017 while making a play for the Buccaneers to be a playoff contender in 2016.
FAB 4. McCOY ISN’T JEALOUS OF WINSTON: “THIS IS JAMEIS WINSTON’S TEAM, GLAD IT IS”
It’s rare that I revisit an older news item in my SR’s Fab 5 column, but given the distinct defensive tackle flavor of this week’s edition, I felt compelled to run my exclusive interview with Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy from January 8. The interview debuted on a Friday night and our web traffic isn’t usually as robust on weekends as it is during the week. The ground McCoy and I covered was so important to the perception that some fans and some in the media have of the Pro Bowl defensive tackle that I feel it’s worth covering again in SR’s Fab 5, which is the most widely read column on PewterReport.com.
Here is my exclusive interview with McCoy that clears up some misperceptions about his leadership ability and his relationship with rookie franchise quarterback Jameis Winston.
There was an item in my SR’s Fab 5 column on PewterReport.com on Friday, January 8, that touched a nerve with Pro Bowl Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, and rightly so looking back on it. McCoy and I spoke on the phone today to clear up some misperceptions on a couple of topics.
The first of which was my suggesting there could be some jealousy between McCoy and rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, who has become the face of the franchise.
Here is what I wrote in my SR’s Fab 5 column in its entirety:
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by Mark Cook/PR
“Speaking of Twitter, Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy tweeted on Wednesday night that he had no beef with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, the team’s first-round pick in 2015. McCoy wrote: “And if you believe me and Jameis are beefing you’re an idiot. Stop believing everything you read!! That’s my brother!! Straight up!!””
“I don’t think many in the media believe there is any beef between McCoy and Winston at all. I’ve mentioned before that there appears to be some jealously and perhaps some sulking from McCoy about all of the attention Winston has received, and so has Tampa Bay Times Bucs beat writer Rick Stroud. Maybe others have mentioned it, too.”
“At least that appears to be the perception, and I know that there are some within the Bucs organization that also feel that’s the case and they see McCoy a heck of a lot more than us Bucs beat writers. If that isn’t reality perhaps McCoy needs to change the perception in 2016.”
McCoy took issue with that remark and texted me, so I contacted him and we discussed it. I apologized for not calling him first to get his side of the story rather than just use his tweet from his Twitter account.
Based on our conversation, I retract the statement I made and removed it from my SR’s Fab 5 column. I’m certainly not afraid to admit when I’m wrong, and this is one of those instances. That was a mistake on my part, and I’m glad that we spoke because he wanted to use this article to set the record straight with PewterReport.com, other members of the media and Bucs fans about a couple of issues, starting with any perceived jealousy towards Winston.
The hope is that other members of the media or the fan base that shares that misperception of McCoy can have it dispelled.
“I don’t want to draw attention to myself at all, but what I do want is clarity,” McCoy said. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was jealous of my own teammate. That’s not going to happen. I love my teammates and I want them to be as great as they can be. The better my teammates are the better the team is, so why would someone be jealous of getting publicity and having success?
“If my teammates are successful that means the team is winning. I love all my teammates. I love them. I’ve rented out theaters for my team. I do stuff with them in the offseason. I’m buying gifts for my teammates. I even took the entire team to dinner. These are the things that I’m doing for my teammates because I love them. I love being in Tampa and I want to win. That’s what I’m about. For anyone to say that I have a riff with Jameis or I’m jealous … come on, man. I know that things go on in Tampa and a lot of stuff can happen to where stories get written – it’s been like that since I’ve been here. But for people to say that I’m jealous of our franchise quarterback? No.”
McCoy said he has absolutely no issue with Winston becoming the face of the franchise. In fact, he welcomes it.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images
“I said in the offseason that this face of the franchise would be shifted to Jameis,” McCoy said. “Now we just want him to enjoy being a rookie, but once the face comes, once it’s his team, there is a lot that comes with it. I’ve said this in an interview at the podium. For people to say that I’m jealous, I’ve already said it’s going to shift. I believed it and I said it early because I knew how successful this kid was going to be. I don’t get jealous. There is no point in being jealous.”
McCoy stated that he and Winston have a strong bond on and off the field. True to his word, he has played a role mentoring the rookie quarterback in Tampa Bay since the moment he walked into One Buccaneer Place.
“I got Jameis’ number before the draft and after he was drafted I immediately sent Jameis a text welcoming him to the team and saying that we love having him on the Bucs,” McCoy said. “Before his press conference the next day I met him in the player’s lounge. I met his parents and his family and told them to his face, ‘I’m going to take care of your son. You don’t have to worry about him while he’s in Tampa.’ The reason I did that is because I know the pressure that comes with being a first-round pick. I may not know what the pressure is like being the first overall pick or a quarterback, but being a first-round pick, I knew the pressure. I just wanted to be in his corner and let he and his parent know that I was here for him. Jameis and I have had numerous one-on-ones at his house, at work, at various places and on the phone. I wanted to let him know that I’m a veteran and I’ve been through this. I told him to enjoy being a rookie. Eventually this was going to be his team.
“I love Jameis like a brother. I’ve gotten to know Jameis and we’ve grown pretty close. I’m so happy that Jameis is our franchise quarterback. If you have a franchise quarterback and they become the face of your franchise that means that you are winning. That’s a positive thing. I’ve been wanting that since I’ve been in Tampa. If anybody is happy about it, it’s Gerald. I’m so happy he’s on our team.”
One of the reasons for the misperception that McCoy might have an issue over sharing the spotlight with the rookie phenom was this pre-game video on Buccaneers.com, which shows Winston in the middle of the huddle before Tampa Bay’s win over Dallas with McCoy appearing to look disinterested on the outskirts of the huddle. I asked McCoy about that and he was happy to provide some context.
“The reason I don’t stand in the circle is that I get into a zone,” McCoy said. “I’ve been blessed to play this game and I pray that God not just covers and protects me, but also my teammates. As my teammates are doing their thing, I’m praying over my teammates. That’s why it looks like I’m off in space. Internally, I’m praying over my teammates. I’ve always done that. That’s how I get prepared for a game. When I’m asked to get in the circle – if that’s what my teammates need for me, that’s what I’ll do. I was asked to speak in the huddle in the preseason game at Jacksonville last year and this year against Chicago. That’s it – only two times. My teammates know that’s not what I do. I’ll speak up to them in practice and I’ll do it in the locker room. I’ll call them and pull guys to the side. I lead that way. I lead with what I do, not by what I say. That’s not me. I’ve never been that guy. So for people to look for me to be that guy, you’ve got the wrong one.”
McCoy said he’s glad that Winston serves the role of fire-starter for the team before kickoff because he has always been uncomfortable in that role, which is why he doesn’t take it on.
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Getty Images
“That’s why we have Jameis. He is that guy that will talk to you before the game. That’s what he does. I lead in a different way. There are all different types of leaders. I’ve never done that. Ask any of my teammates and they’ll say, ‘G doesn’t get in the circle. That’s not what he does.’ I let everybody else do the inner circle pump-up talk. I’ve never been that guy – ever. Throughout the week I’m calling my teammates, I’m talking to my teammates and I’m texting my teammates. I push guys in practice. I push guys in the meetings. That’s who I am.”
McCoy made it clear he isn’t sulking in that video. He’s just being introspective in pre-game. He’s being himself.
“I’ve always been a calm guy, and I love this game, so I don’t have to do all that before the game,” McCoy said. “I’ve never told anybody that they’re doing too much or that they have to do all that yelling to play football. I let everybody be himself. Whatever it takes for my teammates to be ready, I’m all for it. Jameis and I lead in completely different ways. The reason he gets in the middle of the circle is because that’s the kind of player he is. He’s more vocal and outspoken, whether it’s in the locker room or before or after the game. I’m more of an action leader. I talk with guys more one-on-one.
“Moving forward it’s going to take more than just me and Jameis. It’s going to take all the leaders on the team – but this is Jameis Winston’s team. It just is. I’m glad it is. This is what we need. He’s the type of leader we need moving forward. I’m happy he’s the guy. I told everybody early on that the face of the franchise would be Jameis Winston. It’s his [franchise]. It got passed on at midseason and I’m happy about because that means that something positive is going on.”
McCoy spoke with a great deal of sincerity and made it crystal clear that there is no animosity towards Winston – only genuine respect.
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Getty Images
“There are teams around the league that have multiple faces, but then you have the quarterback, who is the true face of the franchise,” McCoy said. “Tom Brady is the face of the Patriots, but when they were first making that run and became that dynasty there were multiple faces. Then it needed to be Tom Brady. With the Bucs it is Jameis, but it is multiple faces, too. We have Vincent Jackson. We have Mike Evans. We have myself. We have Lavonte David. We have multiple faces, but we have Jameis and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s going to take all of us to move this team forward and we have to be at our best on and off the field.”
I appreciate McCoy taking the time during his offseason to go on the record with PewterReport.com and set the record straight.
“Everybody has a job to do and I understand that,” McCoy said. “A lot of stuff that’s written I don’t take personal, but things of this magnitude need to be addressed. My shoulder has been messed up all season and my hand was broken, and I’m still out there. Regardless of whether I’m at 70 percent or 50 percent, I’m still giving everything I have. So for a person to suggest that because I’m standing outside the circle because I don’t care about winning is wrong. I just feel like all of this stuff needed to be cleared up.”
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy played through a shoulder injury that bothered him all year, in addition to a broken hand that only caused him to miss one game during the 2015 season. McCoy had hand surgery prior to the Atlanta home game in November, but didn’t really discuss his injuries during the season. McCoy’s toughness is greatly admired by his teammates.
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy’s broken hand on McCoy’s Instagram
“Gerald is a team guy first and he’s going to do whatever he can to help us win,” Bucs nose tackle Akeem Spence said. “No. 93 wants to be on the field no matter what. People don’t realize how tough he is. He was banged up a lot last year with the hand and the shoulder, but he sucked it up. Every Sunday that shoulder was hurting and his hand was hurting, but he’s a true warrior. I respect that.”
McCoy revealed the sizeable scar on his left hand on Instagram last month from where he had surgery.
• Tampa Bay may not do too much in free agency in terms of addressing their defensive line. One of the reasons is that there is an abundance of talent at both defensive end and defensive tackle in the upcoming draft. Another reason is that the Bucs like young defensive ends William Gholston, who is entering a contract year, Jacquies Smith, an exclusive rights free agent, and Howard Jones. That trio combined for 15 sacks, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns in 2015. Despite entering his fourth year in the league, Gholston is only 24, while Smith, who is entering his third year, won’t turn 26 until March 18. Howard, who is entering his second year in the league, is 26. Gholston is a classic five-technique defensive end with the versatility to play multiple positions, including defensive tackle. Gholston really came on at the end of 2015 when he had a career-high two sacks against Atlanta, and a career-high 11 tackles at St. Louis. Smith and Jones are ideal weakside pass-rushing ends – or Leos – in Mike Smith’s defensive scheme.
Don’t look for the Bucs to make a play for Mario Williams, who earned a bad reputation for loafing and quitting on his team last year in Buffalo.
Georgia DE/LB Leonard Floyd – Photo by: Getty Images
• Good friend and colleague Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com recently had Georgia edge rusher Leonard Floyd going to the Buccaneers with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. I like Floyd’s length and athleticism a lot. He measured nearly 6-foot-6, 244 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, which is two inches taller and 12 pounds heavier than his listed height and weight on Louisville’s roster. Floyd also ran an impressive 4.6 in the 40-yard dash.
But Floyd’s weight gain is likely artificial for the Combine as he played at in the 230’s at Georgia. While he has great bend in his pass rush, Floyd doesn’t have any power in his game and he was moved from defensive end to linebacker because he was such a liability in the run game. Without the ability to convert speed to power, Floyd is the second coming of Dion Jordan or Barkevious Mingo – two former first-round busts drafted by Miami and Cleveland, respectively.
Having said that, Floyd will likely go somewhere in the first round, probably to a team that will play him as a 3-4 outside linebacker. That team won’t be Tampa Bay.
• If Tampa Bay loses running back Doug Martin in free agency do not be surprised if the Bucs spend the ninth overall pick on running back Ezekiel Elliott. This is not a great class for running backs, and despite the suggestion that they are a dime a dozen, Elliott is a rare talent that rates very highly at One Buccaneer Place and is worthy of a top 10 selection.
If Martin departs – and Dallas, Jacksonville and Oakland are three teams to watch – and the Bucs don’t make a play for Miami’s Lamar Miller, it could be a clear indication that Tampa Bay could be targeting Elliott in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston & NT Akeem Spence
• Count Tampa Bay nose tackle Akeem Spence as a big believer in franchise quarterback Jameis Winston. After an untimely personal foul in the Bucs’ loss to the New York Giants kept a drive moving late in the fourth quarter, Winston was seen consoling Spence on the sideline. That was true leadership, according to Spence.
“That was huge,” Spence said. “I made a bone-headed play, but to see a young guy like that still have your back spoke volumes about him. I still tell him to this day how much I appreciate that. I have his back. I respect him a lot. Our quarterback coming over and talking to a defensive guy – that just showed you how much of a leader he is and how much he wants to win. We’re going to win with him leading us.
“He did it at Florida State and he was the number one draft pick. Jason [Licht] and Coach Lovie [Smith] saw that. You could just tell when he started taking the snaps on the first day he was a natural born leader. He had a great year and he’s taking steps to become that elite quarterback we need – that franchise quarterback. It’s his team, and we’re going to go as far as he takes us. I’m very excited that we have guys like him, Clinton [McDonald], Gerald [McCoy] and Lavonte [David] leading us. We’re headed in the right direction.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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