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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs D-linemen different animals on the field

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 02:11 AM
SAN FRANCISCO -

From his black, horn-rimmed glasses to his mild-mannered, do-gooder demeanor, there is a lot of Clark Kent in Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

There is, at least, until McCoy steps across the thick white line that separates the rest of the world from a football field.

Football fields are to McCoy what telephone booths were to Kent. They are where everything changes, from McCoy's vision, which he says suddenly and inexplicably improves, to his personality.

"It's really amazing,'' Tampa Bay safety Corey Lynch said of McCoy's transformation. "He gets out there on the field and all of a sudden he's mean, he's nasty. And lately, he's just been crushing people.''

He's not the only one. As the Bucs look for their fourth consecutive win Sunday at San Francisco, rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn, end Michael Bennett and tackle Brian Price also are crushing opponents.

That foursome has produced six sacks, eight tackles for loss and 25 quarterback pressures in Tampa Bay's past two games, numbers considered to be largely the result of personality changes such as McCoy's.

"Yeah, you see those guys off the field and they're all quiet, mild-mannered guys,'' linebacker Geno Hayes said. "But then they hit the field and it all changes. All of a sudden they're like mad men.''

What they are, in reality, is a reflection of co-defensive line coach Keith Millard, a former All-Pro NFL lineman who has stressed to his players the need to develop an alter ego and to tap into it once they take the field.

"He's been telling us since we came back to work this year that we have to be different people on the field,'' McCoy said of Millard, who joined the team during the offseason as part of a defensive coaching shakeup. "He told us we have to be vicious and angry and that nothing should stop us. And that's kind of what we've done. We've all bought into it and it's really changed the way we play.

"Before we were playing too complacent. We were playing not to make a mistake. Now when our hand goes in the dirt, there's no thinking. It's just read, react, get off the ball and go make plays.''

With a sack, three tackles for loss and 10 pressures, McCoy has perhaps made the most plays the past two weeks. Yet, he is also the player most conflicted by Millard's demand he play with so much ferocity.

The order runs contrary, McCoy said, to not only his off-field persona but his Christian beliefs, which originally left him almost hesitant to buy in completely to Millard's edict.

"It's definitely not for me,'' McCoy said of taking on such a nasty personality. "My faith is very strong and when I get onto the field, I really am playing for the Lord. That's how I look at it.

"But then our chaplain told me during Week 1, he said, 'Gerald, if you're really playing for the Lord, then you should be the most violent guy on the field.' That's when it hit me and all of a sudden I was like, 'Well, all right then.'''

The alter ego edict has been a little easier for Clayborn to accept. Though he is a quiet, almost shy, person off the field, the 2011 first-round draft pick out of Iowa has always played like an enraged man on it.

"Yeah, I'm weird – very weird,'' said Clayborn, who has two sacks, a forced fumble and seven pressures the past two games. "We get on the field and it's like this inner beast comes out.''

It's beneficial for the Bucs that it does. The way coach Raheem Morris sees it, Clayborn's penchant for playing with a nasty rage pushes the rest of the group, especially McCoy, to do the same.

"Gerald's a nice guy,'' Morris said. "He's going to smile at you. He's a big teddy bear. But our 'Boy Dog' (Clayborn), he helps him become a little angrier. He helps brings out that ferociousness.''

According to Millard, that ferociousness has to come out. It's the only way an NFL defensive lineman can excel, he said, and Millard knows a little something about excelling in this league.

He still holds the single-season record for most sacks by a defensive tackle with 18 for the Vikings in 1989. During a career in which he also played briefly for the Seahawks, Packers and Eagles, he rang up 58 sacks in 93 games.

"Look, it's not fun and games out there,'' Millard said. "It's trench warfare and you have to realize that when you go out there it's on, and you're backed up against a wall and you have to come out swinging.''

The Bucs defensive linemen didn't really come out swinging the way Millard wants them to until Monday night's 24-17 victory against the Colts. Even when they produced two of the Bucs' four sacks in a 16-13 win two weeks ago against the Falcons, Millard wasn't pleased.

That led to what he described as a "heart-to-heart'' meeting with his players in which he showed his own nasty side while letting them know their attitudes had to change – or else.

"It wasn't nice, but we made our points,'' Millard said. "It was a wakeup call. I told them, 'This is how the game is played and if you want to be successful you're going to have to rise up and play it this way.

"It's not a nice guy's game, and I understand that you're all great guys and God-loving people and you can all come over to my house and date my daughter, but I don't want that on game day.' ''

A look back at the victory against the Colts suggests the message got through. Tampa Bay's line combined for 17 of the team's 39 tackles, all six of its quarterback hits, all four of its sacks and its only forced fumble and fumble recovery.

A couple days later the Clark Kent-like McCoy stood near a corner in the Bucs locker room and quietly explained the line's recent surge, likening it to an ensemble of actors playing their designated roles on stage.

"Everybody just got angry, which is the mentality that Coach (Millard) has (instilled) in us,'' he said. "He told us he wanted us to play mean and nasty and it's hard to argue with it because it really seems to be working.''


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