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Longtime friends Gerald McCoy and Sam Bradford to become first-time foes

TAMPA — After the lopsided loss to the Saints last week, Gerald McCoy's spirits were about as low as the sinking sun.

The Bucs rookie defensive tackle felt responsible for his team giving up 475 total yards in a 31-6 loss to the defending Super Bowl champions.

Worse yet, he appeared frustrated and confused over his role, recording only three tackles and completing his fifth pro game with a goose egg in the sack column.

But two days later, his phone rang, and the voice on the other end belonged to Sam Bradford, the Rams rookie quarterback and McCoy's teammate at Oklahoma.

"We just talked about life," said McCoy, 22. "The thing about this is, this game can be so overwhelming that when you get a chance to not talk about football, you take that opportunity."

A year ago, Bradford re-injured his throwing shoulder and had season-ending surgery, casting enormous doubts on his durability and future in the NFL. The former Heisman Trophy winner overcame that well enough to become the No. 1 overall pick and has led the surprising Rams to a 3-3 start.

Having both grown up in Oklahoma City, Bradford and McCoy have known each other since they started playing football but never competed against each other.

Until now.

"It's going to be fun to face him," McCoy said, "seeing him living his dream and I'm living mine and we're playing against each other. It's going to be fun."

Fun. Now there's a word that has taken a hiatus from McCoy's vocabulary. That's what they had together when McCoy was a two-time captain of the Sooners and Bradford had just been named the best player in college football in 2008, the year Oklahoma played for the national championship. They grew close at OU and developed as two of the best players in the nation — with Bradford being picked No. 1 overall by the Rams and McCoy two picks later by Tampa Bay.

"It was awesome playing with Gerald," said Bradford, 22. "Gerald was definitely one of my favorite teammates. We had a great relationship just from the fact that we kind of knew each other before we got to Oklahoma.

"We did some things together before we got to OU, and Gerald's just such a great guy. He's got a great personality, he can make you laugh at any time, and he's a tremendous football player as well."

McCoy's respect for Bradford is genuine. How could you not be impressed with the way he has silenced the naysayers by playing every snap for the Rams at quarterback, dispelling pre-draft concerns that his shoulder was not healed. He has completed 133 of 234 passes (56.8 percent) for 1,357 yards with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Especially considering the Rams' suspect offensive line and season-ending injuries to receivers Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton, Bradford has been as good as advertised, if not better. Last week, he led the Rams to an upset of the Chargers and their top-ranked defense by going 18-of-31 for 198 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

"He is the quarterback; he's playing well," McCoy said. "He makes those everyday rookie mistakes, but who doesn't? Once he gets it, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with. It's going to be scary because Sam is one of the most accurate quarterbacks I've ever seen. He just is, and that's what makes him so good.

"We were pretty close (at Oklahoma). I've known Sam since little league. I knew him in high school. We were pretty close, and then we took some classes together, and of course we were on the same team (with the Sooners). We're pretty cool. I've never played against Sam ever. This will be my first time."

Of course, why they never faced off before today is a matter of some disagreement. McCoy insists that Bradford's youth football team was afraid to play his team.

"He can't duck and dodge us this time because it's on the schedule," McCoy said. "It's too late."

Bradford insists that McCoy's team switched leagues once he came aboard and that was the reason for not playing. Either way, McCoy has seen enough of him to know the concern about any perceived lack of toughness was inaccurate.

Bradford has taken a beating this season. He has been sacked 14 times in six games and knocked down on plenty of other occasions.

"He's a fighter," McCoy said. "The knock on Sam was that he can't take a hit. If anybody's been watching football this year, you've seen that he's been hit pretty hard. His helmet got knocked off this last game, but he keeps coming back and fighting. That's just the type of guy Sam is.

"He just fell on his shoulder wrong (in college). He falls on his shoulder wrong and now he can't take a hit? No, Sam's a tough guy, and he's really smart."

Fortunately for Bradford, the Bucs are last in the NFL with four sacks, all of them coming in Week 2 at Carolina.

"He's not getting gun shy," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said of Bradford. "That's what you look for in young quarterbacks. You look to see if they are looking at the rush or looking downfield. He is certainly looking downfield to deliver the big throw on you, and it's a credit to him and his development."

It might be fitting if McCoy's first NFL sack comes today against Bradford.

"I know he's licking his chops to get a shot on me," Bradford said. "He's already told me that. I'm sure that's something that he's looking forward to."

Longtime friends Gerald McCoy and Sam Bradford to become first-time foes 10/22/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 23, 2010 5:53pm]

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