Gerald McCoy likes to have fun. This includes dressing up in oddball costumes. The defensive tackle has gone to an Oklahoma-Texas Tech men's basketball game as Cupid — with wings attached. In February, he made an entrance to a women's basketball game against Baylor dressed as Boomer, his alma mater's mascot. But last season, after signing a five-year, $63.42 million ($35 million guaranteed) contract with the Bucs as the No. 3 overall pick of the draft then going eight games without a sack, McCoy didn't feel like wigging out. "Things didn't go the way they should've been going for me to be dressing out," McCoy, 25, said. "When you just make jokes, people don't take well to jokes. So I didn't want to come in here with a clown 'fro, big nose and face painted with zero sacks in Week 8." As McCoy knows, the lack of a pass rush in Tampa Bay is no laughing matter. Over the past five years, it seems every Buccaneer has been sent in pursuit of the opposing quarterback except Bryan and Joel Glazer.
Not only did the Bucs finish tied for 30th in the league with 26 sacks last season, they haven't had a player reach double digits since Simeon Rice's 14 in 2005.
McCoy finished with three before missing the final month of the season with a torn left biceps. Meanwhile, the Lions' Ndamukong Suh, who was drafted one spot ahead of him, led all rookies with 10 sacks and was named All-Pro and defensive rookie of the year.
Thirty-two picks after drafting McCoy, the Bucs doubled down at defensive tackle with Brian Price, a second-round pick from UCLA who played in only five games before fracturing his pelvis. This year, they did the same at defensive end, taking Iowa's Adrian Clayborn 20th overall and Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers 31 picks later.
That's a pair of No. 1s, a pair of No. 2s and $50.62 million (potentially $80.83 million) for what the Bucs hope will develop into the Purple People Eaters, Fearsome Foursome, Steel Curtain or New York Sack Exchange
The last such high-stakes gamble came when the Glazers traded a pair of No. 1s, a pair of No. 2s and $8 million to the Raiders in 2002 for coach Jon Gruden, who won a Super Bowl in his first season.
"It is a big investment. That's why the importance will be put on them," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "You should see McCoy show up this year in a big way as a leader and a productive football player; disruptive. It's a big year for Brian Price coming back and starting to get back on the field and get healthy. Clayborn is already out there, so he has a chance to prove himself right now and make that immediate impact. And Bowers is the guy … working into that role.
"If those guys can go out and play consistently like they have throughout the preseason, I think you'll have what you want."
But the investment didn't stop there. In the offseason, the Bucs hired two defensive line coaches, Keith Millard, the 1989 Defensive Player of the Year for the Vikings whose 18 sacks that season remain the record for tackles, and Arizona State assistant Grady Stretz, who will direct the run defense.
Millard, who would work himself into a violent rage during the week before games and manufacture hatred for an opponent, has instilled that distaste in his players.
"You're going against the biggest guys on the field. You've got to stop the run, and you've got to stop the pass," Millard said. "So you've got to bring a type of mentality that no matter what happens in front of me, that guy is not going to stop me. Period.
"Because they haven't proven themselves at this point, because they are young, they're all on a mission. They all want to be great, and they're working on all the little things, staying late after practice, working hard during practice. They're in the film room all the time by themselves and with me. The fact that we've got first- and second-rounders up and down the line, you've got the skill set and the athleticism."
That hasn't always been the case.
Since 2005, 53 players have recorded a sack for the Bucs. But the most in one season is Stylez White's eight in 2007.
Though only in his second year, McCoy is the leader of the line and, along with Clayborn, the only ones guaranteed to start in today's season opener against the Lions.
Price, recovering from surgery to reattach his hamstrings to his pelvis, will play on some pass rush downs and replace Frank Okam or Roy Miller at nose tackle. Michael Bennett will start at left defensive end, but it's likely only a matter of time before Bowers, who led Division I-A with 16 sacks for Clemson last season, takes over.
"(Clayborn and Bowers) didn't bring problems," McCoy said. "They brought more of the kind of fun we wanted to have; work ethic. They're willing to get extra reps and get slammed or get beat up just to be better. That's what you need if you're going to have a good D-line."
Each lineman has a chip on his shoulder pads. McCoy is trying to atone for a slow start as a rookie. Price, who might be limited at first to nickel rushing downs, wants to prove he can fight through his injury and get into football shape.
"I walk into this building. I don't care about pain. I just want to play football," Price said. "I just block the pain out; got to play with a tenacious attitude. You're on that field. There's no asterisk next to your name. There's no, 'Oh, he had surgery, so we're going to take it easy on him.' No, they're trying to beat me out there."
Bowers was considered among the top talents available in the draft before undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
"Definitely, by far, I think I am the guy with the log on his shoulder for the circumstances of the past few months," Bowers said. "I'm out to prove a point. It's scary what we could be potentially if we put in the hard work and get after it."
Clayborn, who did not have a sack during the preseason, will immediately help the Bucs' run defense by setting the edge and being strong on the point of attack.
"I call him the boy dog; the alpha male kind of attitude where he just takes over the room," Morris said. "Almost a little bit of silence and almost a nasty demeanor or attitude. He looks at you in a sarcastic way. I kind of like that."
McCoy will have to undress a few quarterbacks before he can dress up as his alter egos. But there might be fun in the sun again on the defensive line in Tampa Bay.
"I love to have fun, and this season, we're going to have fun," McCoy said. "So ya'll strap in. Get ready. Let's do this."
|5 years||$63.42 million|
|$35 million guaranteed|
|4 years||$3.85 million|
|$3.85 million guaranteed|
|4 years||$8.21 million|
|$8.21 million guaranteed|
|4 years||$5.35 million|
|$3.56 million guaranteed|