TAMPA — Bucs DT Gerald McCoy is one of the premier defensive players in the NFL, a three-time Pro Bowl player with an explosive first step. But there is a problem. He puts quarterbacks on the ground, not the football.
McCoy only has forced four fumbles in 64 career games, recovering two. For as dominant as he has been as an interior pass rusher, the Bucs believe the next step for McCoy is to finish with more game-changing plays.
"I think he'd talk about those impact plays, those splash plays," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "The sacks are great and he was on the verge a season ago of being a double-digit sack guy prior to being injured. The area that I know he has been focusing on in training camp and OTAs as well is coming up with those strip fumbles, those sack fumbles. Being able to come up with that game-changing takeaway. If that can happen we can get multiple numbers in that area, (it will) take his game to the next level, take our defense to another level.
"He is going to be great against the run. He still is going to win against most guards he plays against if they ever try to block him one-on-one. Now, once he gets back and gets the quarterback in his grasp, can he get the football out?"
McCoy had a sack-fumble in a loss to the Chicago Bears last season. But two seasons ago, he had no forced fumbles.
"Impact sacks, man. Getting the sack is great,'' McCoy said. "Getting (the quarterback) on the ground is wonderful, but our job, defensively, is to score and get the ball back."
The Bucs finished 25th in total defense, but that ranking is skewed a bit by how poorly they played the first half of the season. More familiarity with the system run by Smith should prove to be helpful.
"By the bye week (in mid October) on, we started to pick it up," McCoy said. "Now you've got a lot of guys who played this system last year who are starting to become vets, then we brought in guys who have played in this system. So when we hit the ground, we hit the ground running in the spring all the way through training camp and we expect it to show up on Sunday. So every element of this defense — I think we have playmakers at every position. This could be a huge year for us defensively."
DEEP CORNERS: One of the areas the Bucs have really improved since last season is the depth of their cornerbacks.
In addition to starters Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks, the Bucs have experienced players such as Tim Jennings, Mike Jenkins and Sterling Moore to back them up.
"We are deeper this season. … We are probably as experienced as any team in the league from a secondary standpoint, especially at corner. That has to help us. We have guys who played in the system with Tim, with Chris Conte. Now Alterraun and Johnthan have a year under their belt. All those things should help us along the way."
ETC: The Bucs have a lot of trust in rookie MLB Kwon Alexander, who is expected to wear the helmet communicator in Sunday's game against the Titans.
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow @NFLStroud.