TAMPA — On the first day of training camp, Gerald McCoy grabbed a microphone from a television reporter and started interviewing quarterback Josh Freeman. No big surprise. The Bucs defensive tackle also has the ability to mimic almost any teammate or coach with astounding similarity.
But sitting on a row of empty bleachers after the second practice of training camp on a sweltering Saturday, McCoy said he is done doing impersonations.
"I can only be me," he said. "I can't try and be somebody else. I can learn to play my position, but I can only do it the way I play. I can try to mimic people, but I can't be somebody else. I can't be (Warren) Sapp. I tried to be Sapp last year. … Just like I tried to be (Pro Bowler) Tommie Harris at Oklahoma, but I couldn't be. I had to be Gerald."
After struggling through his first nine games as a rookie without a sack, the pressure mounted on McCoy, the third overall pick in the 2010 draft from Oklahoma. He had three sacks in his next two games, but two games later, against the Redskins, he sustained a season-ending torn biceps.
This year McCoy doesn't have to worry about being a carbon copy of some of the league's best under tackles. But he has a chance to learn from an original.
The Bucs hired former Vikings All-Pro Keith Millard as a defensive line coach, specializing in the pass rush, an area where the Bucs need improvement after finishing next to last in the NFL with 26 sacks last year.
At 6 feet 5, an inch taller than McCoy, Millard played nine seasons, all but two in Minnesota. In 1989, his fifth season, he was third in the league with 18 sacks, still the most by a defensive tackle, and was named the defensive player of the year.
Millard was the gold standard for players such as John Randle and Sapp, interior defensive linemen who racked up sacks like edge rushers. For McCoy to work with him, it's like Colonel Sanders giving you the secret herbs and spices for his fried chicken, or Lance Armstrong teaching you how to ride a bike.
"You get coached by the originator," McCoy, 23, said. "It doesn't get better than that. "
Millard and fellow defensive line coach Grady Stretz have adjusted the Bucs' approach, especially for McCoy. They simply want him to beat the snap count, penetrate and be disruptive.
"You think about the other guys: John Randle, Warren Sapp," Millard, 49, said. "What do the three of us have in common? A lot of energy. High octane. And that's what I was telling Gerald. You've got to be ready to play this way for six quarters. … It's the Walter Payton rule: You can't let them know you're tired; you can't let them know you're hurt. You've got to keep coming."
McCoy believed the Bucs didn't play to his strength last year. He believed they moved him around too much, having him play both defensive end positions in some 3-4 alignments. He was so concerned about controlling his gap, he waited for ballcarriers to reach him rather than force plays. Meanwhile, McCoy's lack of production was made more glaring by the inevitable comparisons to the Lions' Ndamukong Suh, the defensive rookie of the year.
Under Millard, McCoy's results should be different.
"It doesn't mean we're running straight up the field," said Millard, who had success igniting the pass rush as a coach with the Broncos and Raiders. "We're reading our keys. But we're getting off. The ball is snapped, we're gone. … That position is a playmaking position, and we've got the right guy playing it."
Millard's intensity might also rub off on McCoy. As a player, Millard would manufacture hatred for his opponent and was demanding of teammates and coaches during practice, working himself into frenzy by Sunday.
But Millard said he's starting with the basics.
"What (McCoy) was struggling with was his fundamentals and his technique, just starting with his alignment," Millard said. "He's quick, explosive with violent rush moves. We've already made the corrections … and it's making a huge difference.
"We're not where we're going to be. But if he keeps going the way he's going right now, he's going to be a good player."
Just like the real McCoy.