TAMPA — Gerald McCoy is larger than life. For the third straight year, the Bucs defensive tackle's oversized image is plastered on an outside wall in a corner of Raymond James Stadium.
A torn biceps tendon in each arm has reduced his career to four sacks in only 19 games, meaning McCoy has not been seen nearly as much on the playing field as he has outside the stadium.
The billboard is another reminder of how the spotlight seems to always fall on McCoy, illuminating his flaws.
"I think sometimes he's had a bad stretch, a bad run," coach Greg Schiano said. "I'm hoping that's all behind him because he's a key to our defense."
That's why the Bucs 20-7 preseason win at Miami on Friday was so important to McCoy, the No. 3 overall pick in 2010.
Playing for essentially his fourth and fifth defensive line coaches in three years, McCoy was disruptive. He bull-rushed tackle Jake Long, knocking him off balance but failing to finish a tackle of running back Reggie Bush in the backfield. On another play, McCoy jumped inside tackle Artis Hicks and leveled Bush for a loss. In two series, McCoy totaled a tackle and two assists while helping to keep the Dolphins from scoring.
"Man, it's been a long time for me," McCoy said Monday. "Week 5 of last year. I came back, played like three or four snaps against the Saints. I haven't played a real game since Week 5. But it felt good. You always know you love something when it electrifies you, so I had a blast."
That's the impact the Bucs expected from McCoy when he signed a five-year, $63.42 million contract with $35 million guaranteed.
McCoy was taken one pick after the Lions took defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who had 10 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Several teams and draft analysts had McCoy rated higher than Suh coming out of the draft.
"They're the two best players in the draft, by far," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said at the time. "I love Suh, but this has become a pass-first league, and I think McCoy's the better NFL player."
Last season, Suh found life a little tougher. He had only four sacks and stomped Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith, drawing a two-game suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell.
Meanwhile, for the second year in a row, McCoy had a long and painful rehab of a biceps tear, this time in his right arm. McCoy said there were a lot of down days.
"So many," McCoy said. "It was a bunch. It was a whole bunch. But that's what comes with the territory of being a professional. You can't really call yourself a professional if you don't have tough days and learn how to work through them.
"Young guys have those tough days and they say I can't do it anymore and they just quit. But when you become a professional, there are going to be a lot of down days. Especially if I want to play as long as I can play — 10 or 12 years. I have to learn to push through it and make the best of it."
If anything, McCoy's sunny disposition has been confused for something else. You can't live soft and play hard. That has been the popular refrain regarding McCoy.
This season, he seems even more focused. He has 30,000 followers on Twitter but has posted only one tweet since June 25.
"I thought he's performed very well," Schiano said. "I think he's got some elite ability."
Teammates marvel at his resiliency.
"He's Gerald, man. There's no other way to say it," nose tackle Roy Miller said. "He's positive, he's upbeat. I think his faith has a lot to do with that. … You talk about somebody to look up to, that everybody has been on his back. But he's just been steady, focusing on what he has to do.
"He's an elite player. His get-off and his strike, there's not too many guys who do that."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.