TAMPA — It is tradition that rookies, as part of their initiation into a team's brotherhood, carry veterans' shoulder pads off the field after practice.
So when Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy recently reversed roles and carried the pads of rookie DT Akeem Spence, eyebrows were understandably raised. But McCoy said Friday he was simply providing the veteran example he did not have in his first season.
"I'm a teammate, and you have to learn to serve before you can lead," McCoy said. "So, if a young guy can see one of the vets, one of the captains, go to a rookie and pick up his pad, it'll show him that, 'Who am I to say I'm not going to do this?'
"You lead by example. More than just talking about it, you've got to do it. … I had to learn as I went. Everybody expected this, this and this, but nobody looked at the fact that nobody was here to help me. I want to give them what I didn't have, which was a vet that knows the game, teaches them how to play it right now instead of them having to go learn."
For Spence, 21, a fourth-round draft pick out of Illinois, that instruction is invaluable, especially because the Bucs have said they expect the 6-foot-1, 307-pounder to earn a starting spot as a tilted nose tackle next to McCoy.
Spence said he has lots to learn, especially "stuff with my stance and my hands." But he slowly is acclimating to the pace of McCoy's game.
"He's the Mike Williams of this draft," McCoy said, comparing Spence to the Bucs wide receiver. "Mike was a fourth-round pick (in 2010), and he took over the offense, and Spence has that ability."
"Gerald gives me a comfort level," said Spence, who, by the way, is back to carrying McCoy's gear. "Having a veteran guy next to me, I'm at ease. I'm not out there with a whole bunch of young guys and we're all just running over the place with our heads cut off. It helps out a lot."
That, McCoy said, is the point.
INJURY REPORT: Williams left practice early with what coach Greg Schiano said was a hamstring injury. Williams was seen speaking to trainers after a twisting attempt to catch a pass during a red zone drill. Rookie CB Johnthan Banks, also with a hamstring injury, worked on a side field. Schiano said he wasn't concerned, but both players might be out until after Sunday's offday. … CB Darrelle Revis had a scheduled offday and did strength work inside. … DE Adrian Clayborn (groin) did not practice for a second straight day.
LINING UP: The first depth chart was released, and there weren't many surprises. Leonard Johnson is ahead of Banks at right corner. Dekoda Watson is ahead of Jonathan Casillas at strong-side linebacker, and Gary Gibson — for now — is ahead of Spence. The only new wrinkle is on special teams. WR Eric Page is the main punt returner, and RB Michael Smith is kick returner.
DEFENSE SHINES: It was a tough day for the offense, which dropped several passes and couldn't find the end zone, most notably on three two-minute drills in which it came up empty.
"I'm biased, but I think our defense is whipping the offense's butt, and you can quote that," Casillas said. "I'm excited about our defense. We have a lot of guys flying around, and when we go against our first offense and second-team offense in two-minute drills, that's the ultimate competition. You've got fast against fast, good against good."
Good for the defense was S Mark Barron breaking up an end zone pass during one two-minute drill. Another drill ended on S Sean Baker's lunging interception of CB Anthony Gaitor's tip.
"We've got to keep getting better," Schiano said, "but it's a step in the right direction."
Staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.