TAMPA — This was supposed to be the week in which two of the NFL's brightest rookie defensive tackles — the Lions' Ndamukong Suh and the Bucs' Gerald McCoy — were to appear on the same field.
Instead, the fortunes of the No. 2 and No. 3 overall picks, respectively, in April, couldn't be more miles apart.
Suh, the former Nebraska star, is uprooting blockers and planting quarterbacks at a record pace. His 52 tackles, eight sacks, interception and fumble return for a touchdown make Suh a frontrunner for defensive rookie of the year.
But on Wednesday, McCoy underwent surgery to repair a season-ending torn left biceps that rolled up like a window shade on the third play of Sunday's 17-16 win at Washington.
"It was a serious downer to say the least, just because of how he was progressing over the past month, and it was kind of a freak deal," Bucs defensive line coach Todd Wash said.
McCoy, the former Oklahoma star, was just beginning to make an impact. He went nine games without a quarterback takedown but entered Sunday's game at Washington with three sacks in his three previous starts. Then came the injury.
It doesn't seem as if anything can slow down Suh, who is on pace to break the NFL record for sacks by a rookie defensive tackle, 10 1/2 by the 49ers' Dana Stubblefield in 1993.
"No question, I definitely hold myself to a very high standard," Suh said Wednesday. "And even when I may have reached or gotten very close to that standard that I'm looking for, I push it even higher. That's just the way I am. I want to continue to be that way because I never want to be satisfied. You can never be perfect in this game, and I don't think I'll ever, ever have a perfect game, but I can obviously get very, very close to it."
Considering all their injuries on the offensive line, the Bucs hope Suh's quest for perfection isn't realized Sunday. The Bucs will start rookie guards Ted Larsen and Derek Hardman against the Lions. Even though center Jeremy Zuttah is almost certain to slide toward Suh in pass protection, the Lions rookie will create favorable matchups for his linemates.
"He's the complete package, that's obviously why he was selected so high," Zuttah said. "… He's getting after the quarterback or getting into the backfield every play. He doesn't stop coming. … He's making a name for himself. I don't think you can compare him to anybody else."
Of course, that wasn't always the case.
Perhaps no two players in recent draft history have been as scrutinized by NFL scouts more than Suh and McCoy.
At 6 feet 4, 307 pounds, Suh was considered to be much more powerful and better against the run. But he was a nimble enough athlete to play as much soccer as football growing up and has demonstrated unusual quickness as a pass rusher.
McCoy, at 6 feet 4, 295 pounds, was a space eater with a faster burst off the line of scrimmage who appeared best suited for the three-technique defensive tackle, shooting the gap between the offensive guard and tackle.
But for nine games, McCoy struggled trying to get a sack. He finally broke that streak with two half sacks at San Francisco on Nov. 21 and followed it up with a two-sack game a week later at Baltimore.
Bucs coach Raheem Morris spent a lot of time studying both players before the draft. Ultimately, the Rams took quarterback Sam Bradford No. 1 overall and the Lions selected Suh, leaving McCoy to the Bucs.
"I joked about it, but we kind of hit the lotto in that spot," Morris said. "We couldn't go wrong. As long as the quarterback was taken first, me and (general manager) Mark Dominik were able to do an arm bar in his office.
"I had visions for both of them, some of them very similar, some of them very different. I just thought they both held a sense of urgency where you create different things and put those guys in positions to have success."
Lions coach Jim Schwartz liked what he saw of McCoy before the injury as well.
"I think he was doing a really good job in there," Schwartz said. "He's a good athlete, stays on his feet, maybe not as productive as far as numbers go as Ndamukong Suh, but that's very difficult to do when you're a defensive tackle."
McCoy plans to return to work later this week and is expected to attend meetings and games. But the Bucs know they won't be able to replace him. Tampa Bay is expected to fill his spot with Frank Okam, who was signed from the practice squad Nov. 24, and Roy Miller, who starts at nose tackle.
Suh says he hasn't followed McCoy this season and vice versa. But everyone would've been eyeballing the league's top rookies Sunday.
"No one could believe it," Wash said of the moment when McCoy was injured. "… It hit us right away, and you could tell … it jacked with him a little bit. But he'll be back. He's a big spoke in our wheel."