TAMPA — Gerald McCoy had just finished running extra wind sprints after practice Wednesday, and his chest heaved in and out as his lungs filled with air. Unfortunately for the Bucs, McCoy hasn't been breathing hard down the necks of too many quarterbacks this season.
One fourth of the way through his first NFL season, McCoy still is looking for his first sack.
The third overall draft pick from Oklahoma has earned respect and is routinely double-teamed. He has 15 tackles, two for losses, and has pressured the passer on five other occasions.
But McCoy's job is to get the quarterback on the ground, and he is one reason the Bucs are last in the league with just four sacks, all of them coming in a 20-7 Week 2 victory at Carolina.
"On Sunday, I hit Carson (Palmer) twice and was in his face three or four times," McCoy said of the Bengals quarterback. "But I've got to get him on the ground. I hit him, he almost fumbled, he threw it up and hit (linebacker) Quincy (Black). I hit him again as he threw it, and he dumped it off. I'm getting there. I'm getting close.
"It's easy to get discouraged. I've played four games, three in the preseason. I've only got one sack on the stat sheet (none in the regular season). It's easy to get discouraged, but you've got to put the right people around you."
Of the Bucs' four sacks this season, only three of them were produced by the defensive line, and two belong to Tim Crowder.
To make matters worse, the Bucs defense hasn't stopped the run, either. Tampa Bay is ranked 30th in rushing defense, having allowed 143.3 yards per game.
"I had two mistakes that make me sick," defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "It's disgusting. Just to know I had a part in that, that's disgusting to me. … It's not that we don't have the guys or the talent, we've just got to find a way to get it done."
Time out for a little perspective. The Bucs are 3-1, a half-game behind first-place Atlanta in the NFC South.
But in the offseason the Bucs invested heavily in the defensive line. In addition to McCoy, they used a second-round pick on UCLA tackle Brian Price, who has no sacks.
"I had a couple one-on-ones that I didn't win," Price said. "That's the game. But in your mind, you have to challenge yourself and tell yourself you're not going to lose a one-on-one, even though it's going to happen sometimes.
"I want to dominate and go hard. I wouldn't have been drafted here if they didn't think I could do it."
So how have the Bucs been winning? Credit the secondary, which has helped produce nine interceptions, tied for second in the NFL with Carolina.
Defensive line coach Todd Wash said despite the victory at Cincinnati, his players had a difficult time watching tape in which running back Cedric Benson rushed for 144 yards on 23 carries.
"Obviously, we're not too pleased about it," Wash said. "It's a different attitude up front coming out of that game than the previous three games. We won the game, but it was one of our worst performances of the year. We're not very pleased with it and hopefully have a little chip on our shoulder going into this one."
McCoy has at least created opportunities for his teammates. Despite being moved around from tackle to end in odd-man fronts, the Bengals were sure to point McCoy out by number and slid their protection toward him.
"It's respect, but (Warren) Sapp got the same thing, he made the best of it," McCoy said. "He still beat his man, beat two people, whatever he had to do. If I want to get to that level, I've got to be ready to do the same."
In addition to Sapp, McCoy will always draw comparisons to Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was taken one pick ahead of him. Suh has three sacks, one interception and 15 tackles.
"The only thing I do when I feel I've had a bad game or things aren't going right, I read my Bible," McCoy said. "I turn on my worship music or turn on a song that reminds me of my mother and it always calms me down."
But coach Raheem Morris knows McCoy and the Bucs defensive line is feeling some urgency.
"Gerald McCoy said it best to me the other day," Morris said. "He said, 'We're doing a good job of getting pressure, but that's not good enough anymore, we've got to start hitting these quarterbacks and getting them on the ground."
Anything else is just hot air.