TAMPA — While Bucs fans obsess about the team's relative inaction in addressing a glaring cornerback shortage, one of the team's defensive captains says another position must produce if improvement is to come.
Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy, fresh off the second day of official offseason workouts, said Tuesday improved line play will be the difference between a reliable defense and the one that blew multiple fourth-quarter leads and was abused by quarterbacks in 2012.
"We put all the pressure on our backs," said McCoy, replacing his typically jovial demeanor with a serious, no-nonsense tone. "When we were working out (Monday) and (Tuesday), one thing I was pushing and telling guys is this defense doesn't move unless we move. … If we don't get to the quarterback and pressure him, then we're not helping our (defensive backs)."
This would seem an odd time to ratchet up pressure on the defensive line. The Bucs have seen two starters from last season leave as free agents: Left end Michael Bennett joined the Seahawks, and nose tackle Roy Miller is now with the Jaguars.
"Those guys were great players," McCoy said. "But it's the NFL. It's a business. Things had to happen. They had to move on. But I think we have a great unit of guys right now. Somebody has to pick up the pieces."
It will fall to the remaining (mostly young) members of the line to intensify pressure on quarterbacks, particularly important for a club that ranked last in pass defense and 29th in sacks last season.
The Bucs are banking on McCoy and third-year ends Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn, both beset by major injuries in the past year. The draft this month might provide help, but the Bucs still will rely heavily on players with limited experience and accomplishment, excluding McCoy, who enters his fourth season.
"We're young, (but) we have an opportunity to be really good there," coach Greg Schiano said of his defensive line. "We have some players we're developing that we feel good about. And you have to look at every decision. It's not just that position. … You can't look at all these decisions in a vacuum. You have to look at it in a more global vision."
That youth makes McCoy's role critical. It has been difficult for McCoy to be a demonstrative leader in the past, given his season-ending injuries in 2010 and 2011. But after playing his first complete season in 2012 and being named a Pro Bowl starter, McCoy is more firmly established.
He's embracing the leadership role, too, knowing just what to say when asked about his status as an all-star.
"It's 2013. I haven't done anything," McCoy said. "That's my motivation. I'm not a Pro Bowler. Last year I was. This year I haven't done anything. We're on Day 2 in our workouts, and right now I'm just a guy.
"My leadership ability has to (increase) because I have enough years under my belt now where I can say that this is my defense."
That's a big responsibility, not unlike the one McCoy says is on the shoulders of the Bucs' entire defensive line.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]