What I wild week it has been – not just for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but also for the other residents of Florida, including the PewterReport.com staff. Due to Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida I was unable to finish last week’s SR’s Fab 5 column before evacuating to Mobile, Ala. with my family last Saturday. PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook fled to Jacksonville, Fla. while Trevor Sikkema went out of harm’s way to Charlotte, N.C.
With the Bucs ready to kick off their 2017 campaign against the Chicago Bears after an impromptu bye week, the PR staff has returned, in addition to my SR’s Fab 5 column with 10,000 words to get you ready for the game and Tampa Bay’s upcoming season. Enjoy!
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. It’s Time For McCoy To Dominate To Get The Bucs In The Playoffs
Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has a problem that only he can fix.
The five-time Pro Bowler was incredibly self-reflective at the podium on April 17, baring his soul in front of a room of collectively shocked Bucs beat writers, including yours truly.
“I had the opportunity to talk to three very credible people this offseason,” McCoy began. “This was at the Pro Bowl – all at different times. And they all told me the exact same thing about myself. Not about the team. It wasn’t even about my play. It was just about me as a man, as a leader, and what I need to do, moving forward. It hit home. To the point to where I reevaluated myself, my whole career up to this 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 that they’ve done. I’m going to keep them nameless because it was a private conversation that happened between me and those individuals. The gist of what it is is that I haven’t done enough to lead this team – simple as that. This team goes to the next level – as much as you need a franchise quarterback, those things are great, [but] this organization, this team winning Super Bowls is built on defense. That guy in the middle is what makes everything roll. Of course they brought up 99 [Warren Sapp] to me numerous times. Any dominant defense had a dominant guy in the middle. Basically, I just haven’t been enough for my team. They went into details, but I kind of take that personally. It’s something I need to address, moving forward. My approach to everything will be different. Media, my workouts, practice, meeting room, games, it’s just – something has to change. I was just always taught when more than one person is seeing the same thing, there’s got to be some truth to it. Especially if what they’re saying is very credible. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and self-evaluating – me, personally. Moving forward, something’s got to give. I don’t what it’s going to be, how I’m going to do it, but if this team is going to go to the next level, I’ve got to fix a lot of things.”
Wow. You read these quotes before, right? PewterReport.com did a story on McCoy’s shocking revelations the day they became public, but on the eve of the Bucs’ 2017 season they are worth revisiting.
“Great players want to be told the truth,” McCoy continued. “They told me the truth and I accepted it. I didn’t blow them off. I wrote it down and I’ve been thinking about it since they said it. And they said it in the midst of being around the best players in the NFL, while I was at the Pro Bowl. So, for them to say that to me at that time and then I’m around all of these other great players, it really hit home. Like, ‘You’re here, but…’ Going into my eighth year, let me just say this – it’s a blessing to be on one team for eight years… it’s a blessing to be here for eight years, on one team. But going into my eighth year, I’ve never been in the playoffs. For me, I’m not one to point fingers. I’m not one to make excuses. I’m one to, after they said to go look at all of my fourth quarters over 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 my film. I’ve been watching all of my fourth quarters. Where’s my energy level in the fourth quarter? Is my technique dropping in the fourth quarter? Am I making the plays that I need to make in the fourth quarter? Then I’ve 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, is to carry the load. I just have to figure out how to do it. All of the great ones do. And 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, taken a lot double teams. Time is ticking. I’ve got a lot of work to do in a short period of time.”
McCoy is as humble as they come, and maybe that is part of his problem.
Not that McCoy needs to be a selfish, egotistical player all of a sudden. His personality is more akin to the gentle giant Lee Roy Selmon after all, rather than Warren Sapp’s surliness, fire in brimstone.
But perhaps it’s time for McCoy to dominate.
Not just do his job. Not just do his assignment and trust that others will make the play.
It’s doing his job, carrying out his assignment and then seeking and destroying. Not in Sapp’s bad ass way, but in McCoy’s own way.
“He just so happened [to say it], but I think he thought that last year,” said Bucs defensive end Robert Ayers, Jr. “It just so happened that a microphone was in front of him and he said it. He wants to be great. He doesn’t just want to be a Pro Bowler. He wants to be a dominant force. I tell him all the time, ‘I can’t do what you do.’ As much as I believe I’m an alpha male, I can’t do what you do. You’ve got to be the one to take that to the next level. You’ve got to be the one that leads us in the fourth quarter. I’m thinking about making big plays, but I’m also in his ear saying, ‘Take over, Gerald. Take over. Nobody out here can block you.’ So I’m always in his ear saying things like that. This was last year, so for him to say that this year it’s like, we already thought that. It just so happened he said it. I think his goals are so high that – It didn’t really change my opinion of him because I felt he felt that way before. I felt he wanted to be great before, I felt his goals were high, I felt like he wanted to be a dominant player, I felt like he wanted to take over games, I felt like he wanted to be unblockable. So I don’t think him saying it now really makes me feel any differently about him because I already knew how he fault.”
Thinking it and believing it is one thing. Doing it is another.
Let loose, Gerald, and understand that out of the 22 players on the field that you’re the best.
Take over, Gerald.
“I don’t see a drop off in energy,” Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. “Gerald is going to command double-teams whether it’s the first quarter or the fourth quarter. I know that Gerald is probably his own worst critic in terms of his game and evaluating his game. He made just as many big plays in the fourth quarter as he did at the beginning of the game. One thing that I’ve learned about Gerald is he’s never satisfied. He always feels like he could’ve done better and when you have guys that have that type of attitude, you’re going to be enhancing your chances of being successful. You want it to rub off on other guys in the room.”
The Bucs have aided McCoy in his quest to become a more dominant force in the fourth quarter this year. Gone is one-dimensional run stuffer Akeem Spence, and in his place is Chris Baker, a big, 320-pound nose tackle that can clog running lanes and provide more pass rush. Baker had 9.5 sacks over the past two years for Washington in addition to five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Baker’s addition frees up veteran defensive tackle Clinton McDonald to play both three-technique tackle and nose tackle in a reserve capacity. The reps that McDonald, who has 8.5 sacks over the past three years in Tampa Bay, gets while spelling McCoy should help the Bucs defensive captain stay fresher for the fourth quarter.
That sounds great in theory, but presents a problem for Smith and defensive line coach Jay Hayes.
“We would like to keep him fresher in terms of the number of snaps that he is going to play, but, it’s hard to sit there and say, ‘Gosh Gerald is on the sideline, let’s get him back out there,’” Smith said. “But we know long-term, maybe not in a specific game, [but] for the season it’s going to help us. Gerald is one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL. Everybody knows where he’s going to be, you can’t hide him. If you try to move him from one side or the other, they’re going to identify him and they’re going to make sure that they are going to give as much resources that they possibly can to slow him down. He’s having a heck of a camp. He’s a special, special player and a man.
“It’s going to be fun to watch those big men up front, they are going to demand resources. If they do, then we’re going to have second level players that are going to be able to make plays closer to the line of scrimmage. That’s what the design of the defense is supposed to do.”
McCoy is as team-first as they come. If taking a few reps off to rest throughout the game is what is needed for McCoy and the team to be more successful in the fourth quarter, he’ll do it.
“I’ll do whatever needs to be done,” McCoy said. “Those guys are great players. Clinton McDonald has been solid in this league for a long time. He’s got a lot of experience and a Super Bowl ring. He’s been in the playoffs multiple times. Chris Baker has been in the playoffs multiple times. He knows what he’s doing. They’ll come get me out when necessary, but I’m not really concerned about that. Whatever it takes to get us to the playoffs. I’ll play the whole game if I have to for us to get to the playoffs. Tired, hurt, sick – it doesn’t matter. I’m going to go.”
McCoy will be called on not to just get to the quarterback more this year, but also to be a more effective run stopper. McCoy had 34 stops in 15, but McDonald had 36 tackles in 12 games. Of course McCoy drew more attention and double teams, but it’s a point of emphasis for Smith and the defense this year.
After allowing 39 yards on 10 carries (3.9 avg.) in a less than stellar first quarter at Cincinnati, Smith was less than pleased.
“It was simple, ‘Get the job done. It wasn’t good enough. Fix it,’” McCoy said. “He basically said get the job done. It wasn’t good enough.”
The next week in the first half against Jacksonville McCoy and the Bucs defense stuffed the run, limiting the Jaguars to one yard on seven carries. Smith’s message got home loud and clear, and McCoy was a big part of it.
“It’s been an emphasis with Coach since we got back from the offseason, and it’s going to be an emphasis moving forward with Coach Smith’s defense,” McCoy said. “One of the main issues we had last year was stopping the run even though we were good on third down. We put ourselves in a lot of bad situations on third down. We were just able to come out on top. It’s going to be a big emphasis for us for sure. That’s going to be our main focus. We can rush. We can get to the quarterback. We showed that last year. But we have to stop the run.”
McCoy believes the addition of Baker could make a big difference.
“He wouldn’t be here if he couldn’t be,” McCoy said. “He’s here for a reason. That’s what he’s good at. He can rush, too, but his presence in the middle is felt. That’s going to be huge for us this year.”
Without McCoy and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander in the lineup against Cleveland, the Bucs starting defense surrendered 83 yards on 14 carries (5.9 avg.) to the Browns, including a 37-yard run by Duke Johnson up the middle where rookie middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith missed an ankle tackle that would have significantly limited Johnson’s gain.
That’s what can happen without McCoy in the lineup for a game.
“Although you may accomplish a lot individually, a person’s legacy is based off of what they’ve done for the team,” McCoy said. “Until this team reaches the playoffs I haven’t done much. That’s the main goal. To make sure this team reaches the playoffs. I have to do everything in my power to make sure that happens. If that is being stronger in the run game or taking over games – whatever it may be. If it is in the locker room or off the field, that’s the goal – to get the team to the playoffs.”
While McCoy may be harder on himself than ever heading into the 2017 season, his teammates know he’ll do whatever it takes for the Bucs to be successful.
“For him to say that he doesn’t do enough, it goes back in his mind the way stuff like that goes back to guys like LeBron James and Michael Jordan when they know they’re the focus – not just on the field but also in their own minds,” McDonald said. “They know they have a bigger plate and a bigger responsibility set before them. He wants to go to the Super Bowl more than he wants to be an All Pro or a Hall of Fame guy. He wants to win a ring and bring it Tampa. That’s his mentality. I can’t look at a guy like that and say anything but ‘I’m going to try to help you bring this ring here, too.’
“They make an analogy about how good players are good people in general and they compare them to a real, authentic gold watch. It’s full of gold, it’s transparent and you can see the mechanisms work and how it ticks, you can see the craftsmanship and it’s always on time. That’s Gerald. He works his butt off and he pulls the rest of us with him. He makes us be competitive. He makes us think outside of the box when it comes to football. He makes us think outside of the box when it comes to living. To be honest with you, I’m fortunate to be around a guy like that – just by the way that he works and by the way that he leads by example. I’m not tooting his horn, but I’m giving him his flowers while he’s here because you don’t come across a guy that plays football and plays the three-technique the way he does. This guy is a game-wrecker every game, every play and he’s always being watched by offenses and they’re scheming for him. He’ll get the job done.”
I asked McCoy what it is that he has to do to be better and to get his team in the playoffs and whether it means taking over more games in the fourth quarter.
“Yeah, but maybe we don’t get ourselves in situation where it’s close in the fourth quarter,” McCoy said. “Maybe we are just putting people away early. That would be good, but that’s not really the league we’re in. I’m not saying it just has to be me. I’m not putting it all on my back because a lot of the games we won last year came from the hands of Keith Tandy. It doesn’t just have to be me, but I’ll do my part. I’ll do whatever it takes. I put a lot of pressure on myself – more than you could ever write about me or anybody could ever say about me. We’ve got to get into the tournament. It’s that simple. It starts with Week 1.”
For McCoy he’s already started.
He was an unblockable force in the running game during training camp and the preseason. Baker’s presence will help Tampa Bay’s ability to stop the run and get the Bucs and McCoy into more pass rush situations. And McDonald will offer some pass rush and help McCoy stay fresh throughout the game and the season.
Then it’s up to McCoy to do his part and dominate.
Seems like he’s ready to do that.