For one game, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy fulfills potential

Gerald McCoy, limited by injuries during his first two seasons, dominated the line of scrimmage against Carolina in Week 1.
Gerald McCoy, limited by injuries during his first two seasons, dominated the line of scrimmage against Carolina in Week 1.
Published Sept. 15, 2012


From the time he arrived in Tampa Bay with his wide grin and "aw shucks" personality, it was obvious DT Gerald McCoy was a good guy. But Bucs fans hoped he would become a better player.

It's as if those two traits were mutually exclusive. What was it Warren Sapp always said? You can't live soft and play hard?

Well, if that were true, there never would have been Lee Roy Selmon. But it's hard to argue McCoy's production has met his pedigree. He played in only 19 games and recorded four sacks over his first two seasons, each derailed by a torn biceps.

Last week, everything seemed to finally click for McCoy. In the Bucs' 16-10 win over the Panthers, he was disruptive, blowing up runs, causing havoc in the backfield and flushing QB Cam Newton out of the pocket. His one sack could easily have been three.

Even when McCoy didn't get home with his pass rush, he forced negative plays such as Newton's minus-6 yard completion.

"It's kind of like it was in college," the No. 3 overall pick in 2010 out of Oklahoma said. "After a while, you just know what's coming. You just kind of go with the flow. You just play the game, and everything slows down because you learn how to study film. You learn what to look for and what to watch.

"Now that I know everything that goes with it, it's time to put it together and just use it."

Ex-Bucs DT Brad Culpepper, who played alongside Sapp for six seasons, attended the game and made it a point to spy on McCoy.

"I … was very impressed," Culpepper said. "He kind of had a breakout game. Almost — dare I say — it was not dissimilar to the way Warren Sapp played in '97 in the game against San Francisco (21/2 sacks and a tackle that tore Jerry Rice's ACL and MCL). They couldn't block him one on one.

"And that's why you have to have a guy like that at that undertackle position. If you leave him one on one with a guard, (the guard) gets beat."

Culpepper admits his perception of McCoy was jaded by the megawatt smile and spicy sound bites.

"You tend to think he smiles, he has glasses and he's nice," Culpepper said. "How can he be a good defensive tackle? There are too many of us that are too young to remember Lee Roy Selmon and how he could dominate. But we all remember Warren Sapp, who was like the punky DT."

McCoy still has plenty to prove, including being capable of playing 16 games in a season. And he understands it's a bottom-line business.

But, he said, don't expect him to change personalities.

"Performance is everything," McCoy said. "Nothing else matters because nobody's going to say, 'Oh, he was a great guy.' They're going to say, 'Oh, he didn't perform.'

"I've been smiling since I've got here, but people also say I haven't been performing since I got here. Nobody cares that I'm smiling. Nobody cares that I'm a great guy. They care if I'm not performing."

Crowded field: The Bucs have 12 defensive backs on their 53-man roster partly because some, including CBs E.J. Biggers and Anthony Gaitor, have been nursing injuries. But it's also because of the contributions players, including Leonard Johnson and Cody Grimm, can make on special teams.

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Once Biggers returns as the nickel cornerback, which could be today, some players could become expendable depending on the health at other positions.

Among them is CB Myron Lewis, who fell off the depth chart last week and was replaced by Brandon McDonald.