TAMPA — There are several reasons DT Gerald McCoy has emerged in the past several weeks as a disruptive force on the line.
McCoy, 22, this year's third overall draft pick, has three sacks in his past two games, two of them against the Ravens on Sunday. Coach Raheem Morris said McCoy has been feeding off the negative press he received in the first part of the season. Defensive line coach Todd Wash said McCoy is playing more aggressively, with the team "cutting him loose" and the rookie understanding what is expected of him.
But McCoy said something off the field has played a role.
"My spiritual life, what was happening, I was swaying away from that," McCoy said. "I was kind of doing things the way I wanted to do it. God had a plan for my life, and I wasn't living according to how His plan was.
"Once I got back on track is when things started to really make a quick transformation. Two games, three sacks, it happens that fast. You've got to stay on track with God, and things work out for you."
Falcons coach Mike Smith has taken notice of McCoy's improved play and knows he'll be tough to handle Sunday.
"When we watched him the first time, you could see his ability to penetrate," Smith said in a conference call Wednesday. "I think he's putting it all together, not only against the run but against the pass.
"I thought he was a very solid player against the run, when we faced him the first time. But you can really see he's starting to get a good feel for rushing the passer and probably understanding protection schemes a little better as well."
STAYING TRUE: RT Jeremy Trueblood had an impressive consecutive-games streak, starting 67 straight, until a knee injury sidelined him in October.
Trueblood, who hasn't started since Week 7, said he's feeling good but knows it will take more than that to get back in the starting lineup given how well RT James Lee is playing.
Lee has started the past five games, and Morris said the two are still battling for the spot Sunday.
"I'm just trying to, I guess, earn it, get better and prove that I should get some kind of opportunity," Trueblood said. "But at the same token, I think James is doing well. There's competition every single week at every position. That's the way the NFL should be."
GRUDEN TALK: Though former Bucs coach Jon Gruden is rumored to be in talks for the University of Miami job, some Tampa Bay players are skeptical he'd go the college route.
"It would surprise me," C Jeff Faine. "I think he'd do a fantastic job. When I was at Notre Dame, there were rumors that he'd take that job before Tyrone Willingham did (late in 2001). And I was excited about having the opportunity to play for him then. But it would surprise me if (Gruden) didn't get back into the pro game. "
QUOTABLE: McCoy, on how important Sunday's game against the first-place Falcons is: "It's not really an almost (win), it's a must win. We've got to get this one."
MISCELLANY: TE Kellen Winslow (knee) and RB Cadillac Williams (bruised ribs) did not participate in Wednesday's practice.