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Bucs' Gerald McCoy is The Man on defense

Gerald McCoy (93) stands with his teammates during Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp at One Buc Place in Tampa on Saturday, July 26, 2014.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

Gerald McCoy (93) stands with his teammates during Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp at One Buc Place in Tampa on Saturday, July 26, 2014.

TAMPA

In the middle of the chaos, there is order.

It is here, in the center of it, that a defense begins to make sense. It is here, surrounded by the violence and the madness and the bodies and the brutality, where the counter-argument of the Bucs begins to take form.

It starts with one man, with one job. If Gerald McCoy is sturdy enough, the defense around him has a chance to succeed. If he is not, it does not.

What could be more simple than that?

He is 26 now, and has grown up. He was married a year ago, and he and Ebony had twins on July 15, bringing their number of children to four. He has seen two head coaches fired. He is the only defensive starter remaining from his rookie season in 2010, when he was the No. 3 overall pick out of Oklahoma. And he has had surgeries on both arms. He has made two Pro Bowls, but he has not won nearly enough games.

Along the way, the Bucs have become McCoy's team. He has assumed ownership of it. It is not only that he plays the most vital position, under tackle. It is that McCoy strikes the tone around here. He sets the standards.

He is first onto the practice field. He is first in line to do the drills. He is his team's heartbeat.

And, as such, McCoy recognizes the requirements of his job.

He has to be great.

"If this defense is going to be as good as ought to be, it's on my back," said McCoy. "And I'm okay with that.

"When you see a dominant Tampa 2 defense, right in the middle of it is a dominant under tackle. There is no such thing as good anymore. It has to be great. If this defense is going to go, I'm going to have to go."

McCoy shrugs. His voice remains calm. He does not say these things to beat on his chest. He says them to accept responsibility. If you have expectations of anyone, have them of McCoy. There is no other way to put it.

"He has taken ownership of this team," said coach Lovie Smith. "As we started our practice, right after stretch, I let someone break down the team. Normally, to start the season, I let our franchise player, the leader of our football team, do that. That's Gerald McCoy. He knows that he's the face of the franchise, and with that goes a lot of responsibility.

"It's my biased opinion, but I believe he's as good an inside player as there is playing right now."

Eventually, that's going to pay off for McCoy. The Bucs and his representatives have already begun to discuss a new contract (he is up after this year). McCoy says he has "no clue" how the talks are going.

"I just show up for work," he said.

''In time, good players will be taken care of," Smith says.

In the meantime, McCoy says he feels a difference with this year's team, too. Still, he has a warning for fans. Success may not happen overnight.

"There is a lot more excitement than has been here in a long time," McCoy said. "They're bringing back the old era. What fans have been looking for for the longest time has been the old Bucs. They want the Tampa 2 back. They want the old defensive staff back.

"What people need to know, though, is that we're just now learning this defense. It's not going to happen overnight. Don't expect us to be the 2002 defense right away. It took those guys some time, too. They put the work in. I've seen the practice tapes. They worked like no others.''

Understand this about McCoy. It is important to him that he matters. He hungers to make a difference. He talks about improving his overall knowledge of the game, until he can know just the right time to take a chance. Warren Sapp has talked to him about that.

"We're overloaded with talent,'' McCoy said. "We have loads of potential. But potential will get you cut. You have to work and work and work."

That said, there are moments when McCoy admits there is more ability around him than he has played with in his career. This unit could be special.

"This defense could be No. 1 in the NFL," he said. "We have that kind of talent. My eyes lit up today when I turned around and saw Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson standing there. I said 'Man, it just got real.' Those two change our defense. When we get it down, it's going to be scary for the rest of the NFL."

Ah, but who is in charge of making sure the Bucs get it down? Why, it's McCoy. Aren't you paying attention?

"If you aren't coming to work, you might want to go somewhere else," McCoy said. "I tell Coach when he's rotating players, 'Don't put them in unless they're ready to go to work.' I don't want anyone next to me who isn't going to give it their all. We have a certain culture, a certain way we work. If you're not with it, you're in the wrong place."

After all, this is McCoy's place. This is McCoy's team.

If you're a Buc, who else do you follow?

Bucs' Gerald McCoy is The Man on defense 07/26/14 [Last modified: Saturday, July 26, 2014 10:21pm]

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