TAMPA — One afternoon in June, the past and the future met on a practice field at One Buc Place.
Warren Sapp got down in a three-point stance and showed Gerald McCoy a few basic things about playing the under tackle position in the Bucs' defense.
The master kept the first lesson simple for the apprentice, remembering how it took him years to forge a reputation as perhaps the best to play the position, which is more of a pass rusher than a run clogger.
McCoy sponged up the information and worked on it at his home in Oklahoma until he returned Saturday to begin living up to expectations larger than Sapp.
"Everything (Sapp) showed me, I just went and worked on it," McCoy said after his first workout with the Bucs. "I worked on it and worked on it. I'm going to try and perfect it. He showed me a lot of minor things.
"We're going to have to keep working and keep working to get to where he thinks I can be, just like he (kept working).
"He just kept working, and eventually he got better until he was unstoppable. That's kind of where he wants me to be, but he says it's going to take time. He said, 'You've got to go out there with no fear, and you've got to have a plan.' "
The Bucs have big plans for McCoy, their first-round draft pick this year, after signing him to a five-year, $63 million contract, with $35 million guaranteed. He missed the morning workout but took his spot in the starting lineup in the afternoon.
For McCoy, it was his first chance to put on pads and play what he called "real football" since his Sooners beat Stanford 31-27 in the Sun Bowl in December.
"The money is there," McCoy said. "But like I always tell my family, 'The money is for you guys.' I work hard to take care of my family. My goal is to be the best football player I can be. I want to be in the Hall of Fame, I want to be in the Pro Bowl, I want to be known as one of the best ever."
McCoy wasn't the only Bucs player smiling Saturday. The day began with sleepless general manager Mark Dominik telling reporters the team had signed left tackle Donald Penn, who joined practice 15 minutes after the announcement.
Penn, who had refused to sign the club's one-year, $3.168 million restricted free-agent tender, received a six-year, $48 million contract, with about $20 million guaranteed.
McCoy is being thrust into the most vital position on the Bucs' defense. McCoy's playful demeanor off the field belies his intensity on it.
"That first play (Saturday)? I made contact, locked my man out, chased the ball, and I said, 'Hey, time to play again,' " McCoy said. "And it felt good.
"A lot of guys think I'm too nice. But when I step on the field, even though I'm not out there rowdy and just talking noise to people, I just turn into a different type of guy."
The comparisons to Sapp are inevitable for McCoy. He knows how unfair it is to chase numbers that will land Sapp in the Hall of Fame one day. But rather than run from it, McCoy embraces the challenge.
That's why he was so humbled that Sapp took the time to drive from his home in Orlando to work with him.
"It was something I didn't just take for granted," McCoy said. "I took it all in, and I cherished those few moments we had because that's not something everybody gets.
"He didn't even make me come to him. He drove down here to meet me, so that was real nice of him to do that."
McCoy won't be the only rookie on the defensive line this season. Tampa Bay drafted UCLA nose tackle Brian Price in the second round. McCoy believes they can be game-changers.
"That's what Sapp did," McCoy said. "They think I can have the same impact as him, so that's what I want to do. That's what they brought us here to do.
"I really think we can change this defense. I really do."