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Bucs beware, here comes 'Ant-Man' (aka, Drew Brees)

 
LOREN ELLIOTT | Times  Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) greets New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9 at midfield following a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La.
LOREN ELLIOTT | Times Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) greets New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9 at midfield following a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La.
Published Nov. 2, 2017

By Greg Auman

TAMPA — Gerald McCoy loves a good superhero metaphor, so when asked for an appropriate comparison for Saints quarterback Drew Brees, he paused and smiled.

"Ant-Man," he said, pleased at the fit and his ability to work in a short joke. "He plays a lot bigger than he is. To be as small as he is, he's very strong."

The Bucs defensive tackle likes to poke fun at Brees' height — he is listed at 6 feet, though McCoy said Thursday that he is 4 feet 6, a playful slight behind a much larger admiration.

The two Pro Bowl players meet twice a year as NFC South rivals — their first this season is Sunday in New Orleans — but they also spend part of their offseason training together in San Diego. Their positions couldn't be much farther apart, but they push each other to be better.

"It's epic workouts. Absolute epic intensity," said trainer Todd Durkin, who has worked with McCoy for eight years and Brees for 15. "Those are two of the hardest-working guys in the NFL. When it comes to training, conditioning, nutrition and recovery, you're looking at two of the guys that do it the right way."

As the Bucs defense seeks a consistency it has sorely missed from week to week this season — and the team seeks to break a four-game losing streak — McCoy sees Brees as the model for steady play, sustained over years.

"He is the epitome of consistency," McCoy, 29, said. "I've trained with this guy for eight years, and nothing changes with him. He doesn't slow down. He's always the same."

McCoy has chased Brees, 38, on the field and in the NFC South standings. Their teams have split their meetings each of the past two seasons. The Bucs won in Tampa last year, and New Orleans won on Christmas Eve,, all but eliminating Tampa Bay from playoff contention.

For two veteran leaders, there's the same chase on every play during games, and in their offseason workouts.

"(Brees is) laughing because he makes it a point to make sure that he beats me at every drill when we're training, and (he) makes sure I do not sack him," McCoy said. "He kind of gives me a little wink if I get too close to him, or he gets the ball out, or I have him in my grasp and he flips the ball. I'm just like, 'What is your problem?' He doesn't want to lose at anything: arguments, drills, especially not games."

Durkin said the two players have their obvious differences, and Brees has been in the league longer (17 seasons to McCoy's eight), but they have much in common in their approach to the game.

"When (McCoy) trains with Drew, it's a very healthy, competitive spirit," he said. "These are two gym rats, in there to get better, to become fierce competitors, but they have a healthy respect for each other, and they push each other.

"Gerald pretty much salivates when he's working out with Drew because obviously Drew's a quarterback and Drew has often gotten the best of Gerald, so he lets him know he better stay focused and on his A game."

Brees and New Orleans have finished 7-9 three years in a row but are off to a 5-2 start this season and leading the division, thanks to an upgraded running game to balance Brees' passing prowess. Brees has a healthy respect for McCoy as well.

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"He's a guy that works. He loves the game. He takes a lot of pride in it. He's the total package," Brees said of McCoy in 2015. "Pretty relentless and he can cause you a lot of problems if you don't account for him. I tell him every offseason to take it easy on me. I hope he does."

Sacking Brees might mean a little more to McCoy because it isn't easy. McCoy has 21/2 sacks in 11 games between them. By comparison, he once sacked the Falcons' Matt Ryan three times in one game in 2013, and in both games last season.

"(Brees is) incredible," McCoy said. "You know how some people athletically I call mutants? Drew is a mutant for just the way he thinks, the way he's able to get things done. He's like superhuman the way he does it."

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.