TAMPA — For most of the season, only a pillow recliner and perhaps an umbrella drink would've made quarterbacks more comfortable in the pocket when facing the Bucs.
Rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick, has no sacks at the midway point and the Bucs are on pace to finish with one of the lowest sack totals in NFL history.
Tampa Bay has six sacks, failing to register a quarterback takedown in five of eight games. The worst ever was the 2008 Chiefs, who finished with 10.
So starting Sunday against the Panthers, the Bucs plan to use new rush combinations that will include McCoy with linebackers Quincy Black, Dekota Watson and perhaps newcomers such as defensive end Alex Magee and defensive tackle Al Woods.
"You're going to see a little different lineup again this week, some third-down stuff," defensive line coach Todd Wash said. "Just getting some guys in there that haven't really played but have showed a good pass rush but maybe they don't have a great feel for the whole package. …
"You'd like to keep a cohesive group, but we haven't been able to do that because we haven't been productive across the board. We'd like to find a group that will work together."
McCoy has drawn the biggest percentage of double teams among the defensive front four this season. So Wash said the Bucs will try to move him around more in rush packages.
"We're going to do some more things to give him some freedom," Wash said. "… We're going to make sure he can get where he needs to get to, rather than slow him down in the system."
McCoy has improved steadily and had a couple of quarterback knockdowns last week at Atlanta. He has 25 tackles, including five for losses, and 11 quarterback pressures. But he will constantly be compared with "that guy up north," as Wash calls Lions rookie Ndamukong Suh, the second overall pick who has 30 tackles, seven sacks, one interception and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
McCoy said Wednesday that he expects a better second half.
"I was kind of feeling it out in the beginning, then I started to come into my own the past three games," McCoy said. "Now I know what to expect the second half. I've played each conference team once, and now I get another eight games and I can change a lot of things. I know what to expect, so I don't have to do as much feeling it out anymore.
"From each team, you know what each guy is bringing. The thing about that is, some guys could get better as the season goes on, some guys could go down as the season goes on. But you know what those guys were when they were fresh."
Relief may come in the form of the Panthers. The Bucs enjoyed their best pass rushing day in their first meeting, at Charlotte, N.C., in Week 2, when they registered four sacks, including two by defensive end Tim Crowder. Right defensive end Stylez G. White, who predicted a double-digit sack season, leads the club with three. With starter Matt Moore facing season-ending shoulder surgery, the Panthers will start rookie Jimmy Clausen at quarterback Sunday.
"I don't like to put blame on a lot of things except ourselves," White said. "We're just not getting there. … The guys who get the one on ones, like myself, they got to win them."
Panthers coach John Fox made it clear during a conference call that his team will likely slide protection toward McCoy.
"I thought he was pretty salty in the first game, and like everybody, each game is a learning experience and he's gotten better, he's playing very well right now," Fox said of McCoy. "I think any time you're making a level jump — and it's a level jump from college to the NFL — the game is bigger, stronger, faster. Probably the biggest thing is game speed. There was no question about his size or strength. All those things are a big reason why he was chosen so highly. It's just a matter of adjusting to the techniques."
Bucs coach Raheem Morris said before the season, he warned McCoy he might go a month or more without a sack and would have to handle the scrutiny.
"Reality is here," Morris said. "He's got to stay in the classroom, he's got to keep hunting and he can't mind the criticism. He's got a 5-3 football team and we're 5-3 partly because of what he's been able to do for us.
"By no means do I think we have all the pieces. But he's certainly going to be one of those pieces around here that we're going to grow to love."