Criticism part of the game for Bucs' Gerald McCoy, who is chasing 'ghosts'

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy jokes with teammates during the first day of training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, July 28, 2017.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy jokes with teammates during the first day of training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, July 28, 2017.
Published July 29, 2017

Upon reporting to training camp, Gerald McCoy wore a kimono and sandals, swag he collected during his recent trip to Japan.

For the first training camp practice Friday, he laced up a pair of cleats painted green as a tribute to the Incredible Hulk.

"I think we had a good first day,'' McCoy said. "There was no shortage of sun, no shortage of humidity. But there was also no shortage of fun, man. We had a blast today. My cleats look good; my socks look good. My teammates look good.''

It has always been fashionable to criticize McCoy, and in a series of Twitter posts Monday, the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle said somebody had crossed the line with their critique of his play.

"Ah, those tweets. Yeah. Well, sometimes, you know, you've just got to say what you've got to say,'' McCoy said. "Whoever ya'll think it means is what it means. I'm going to let ya'll decide what it means and write whatever you want.''

It appears that McCoy was reacting to comments made by former Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, who did not list him among the team's "badass" players in a story that appeared in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times.

When asked if he was responding to Barber's comments, McCoy said, "If you think it was directed to Ronde … but I never said that.''

Barber listed linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David as players who have the energy and fire to lead the defense. But he said it would be tough for McCoy or any defensive tackle to take that role unless he had a personality like Bucs Hall of Famer Warren Sapp or former Vikings defensive tackle John Randle.

As soon as the Bucs made McCoy the third overall draft pick in 2010, he drew inevitable comparisons to Sapp, a first-ballot Hall of Fame player who was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 and won a Super Bowl.

McCoy, who has recorded 331/2 of his 421/2 career sacks in the past four seasons, has been named to five consecutive Pro Bowls. In 2015 he signed a six-year, $95.2 million contract. McCoy said he has learned to live with the comparisons.

"Listen, since I've been drafted to Tampa, I've been receiving criticism because you've got Lee Roy Selmon and you've got Warren Sapp, and now it's me and I'm supposed to be the next coming of whatever,'' McCoy said. "If you don't live up to whatever everyone expects you to be, you're going to get criticism.

"Everybody wants you to be a certain way, and if you're not what they think you should be, then it's not enough. But as long as everybody in this building cares about each other and we're enough to each other, that's what it's all about.''

McCoy said the criticism only partially fuels his performance each year.

"I'm going to give you a rundown,'' he said. "First things first, God has given me this gift and this ability to play this game. And when I slack or take a rep off or don't give it my all, it's like telling God, 'Um, I don't really appreciate the gift you gave me.' So that's one.

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"Second, I've got a family to take care of. Man, I got a wife, four kids. We want more kids. I got to make sure my family is set. I don't want them to want for anything. And then third is a group of a lot of things. It's the Glazers (the Bucs' owners); you gave me an opportunity to play this game, to live out my dream. I've got my teammates who depend on me to do my job. I've got the coaches. Then you've got the fans.''

McCoy was among the first players on the field Friday morning. He practically danced across the turf, working his hands past imaginary blockers and moving toward a cheering crowd.

On one play during team work, McCoy made his presence felt by beating his man to the inside and stripping quarterback Jameis Winston of the ball, narrowly avoiding a collision with Winston in a noncontact practice.

" 'Three' is the franchise,'' McCoy said of Winston, using the quarterback's jersey number. "Dirk (Koetter) gave me that eye. I said, 'Ah, shoot, I'll be in the principal's office later.' ''

But within the team and the league, Koetter said, McCoy has no detractors.

"The players vote on the Pro Bowl,'' Koetter said. "Gerald is a heck of a football player. Sometimes the inevitable comparisons to Warren Sapp … any player that's compared to someone else, they're not him. He's a different player, and Gerald is a really good football player."

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Contact Rick Stroud at @NFLStroud