TAMPA — Gerald McCoy has been labeled as many things: charming, engaging, maybe even a little silly.
But under no circumstances should the rookie be referred to as merely a garden variety defensive tackle because, really, the Bucs' first-round pick is so much more.
The proof came Sunday, in McCoy's first regular-season game, when he not only played his standard role of 3-technique tackle, but every other position on the defensive line as well.
Defensive end? Check. Nose tackle? Check. And, to let the Bucs tell it, McCoy might just be scratching the surface.
"He has a dynamic that is special," coach Raheem Morris said. "He is unique."
The concept is simple. The Bucs feel McCoy is not only immensely talented but also versatile and athletic. Given that, they have decided the best way to take full advantage is to use him differently based on game situations and opponents, putting him in position to exploit favorable matchups.
Now, the Bucs hope opponents will be left trying to adapt to McCoy's roles, while having no way to predict where he'll be next.
When lined up at 3 technique — his natural position — McCoy lines up across from an offensive guard's outside shoulder. But McCoy can just as easily assume the role of a 5-technique end, lined up on the outside shoulder of an offensive tackle, or even a 6-technique, against a tight end in the sort of matchup the Bucs relish.
"If you're going to single block (a defensive end) with a tight end, maybe it's a tie," defensive line coach Todd Wash said. "But now, all of a sudden, you're single blocking a 305-pound defensive tackle who is athletic enough to play (end), it's a little bit different."
McCoy is used as an end when the Bucs call for their "heavy" package, one that consists of wide bodies Roy Miller and Ryan Sims in the middle with Kyle Moore (left end) and McCoy (right end) on the edges.
At other times McCoy takes on the role of the nose tackle, lined up eye-to-eye with the center.
"When we're in our 'go' group, which is all pass rushers, I'm the biggest pass rusher in that group," McCoy said. "So they put me on the nose just in case (we switch) to a base defense."
What's surprising about all this isn't that McCoy pulls it off, but that the Bucs were willing to attempt it in the first place.
Though he showed some versatility at Oklahoma, it was McCoy's football aptitude that convinced his NFL coaches he could be effective in multiple roles as a pro.
"He's always had the ability to do it," Wash said. "But once he got here, we realized how intelligent he is and how quick he picks things up. Depending on the teams we play and the guys we want to isolate him on, he studies enough that we can put him at any position. We're very excited about how professional he is."
Said Morris: "He's smart, he's sharp, and when we got him, I found out that he is more conscientious than I knew. What I mean by that is he takes the game outside of the building and he goes home with it (to study). … He's able to carry it over to the next day, so you're able to do different things with him in different packages. He still makes his mistakes, but his growth and development in the short amount of time he's been here has been awesome."
And as McCoy continues to grow, opponents will have a more difficult time forecasting his next assignment — which is exactly the idea.
"It makes offenses around the league play the Where's Waldo game," Morris said.
About the only thing that seems likely is that McCoy will be on the field. He spoke proudly of playing 57 of 62 defensive snaps against the Browns in the opener, including some against All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas.
"He's earned his name: All-Pro Joe," McCoy said. "He did something with his hands and I was like, 'Man, I've never seen this before in my life.' "
McCoy thoroughly enjoyed his first regular-season game.
"It was everything (I expected) and more," McCoy said.
Sort of like what he has become for the Bucs.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]