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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Gerald McCoy raised to be a leader

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 01:22 PM
BRADENTON -

Gerald McCoy looked across the field in envy at a group of offensive linemen moving from one drill to another.

"See that," the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second-year defensive tackle said during a break in quarterback Josh Freeman's recent players-only minicamp at IMG Academies. "Those guys are like that all the time. They're always together, like a pack. Wherever they go, you always see them together.

"And that's how we've got to be on the defensive line. We've got to be tight like that, because when you're tight and you really know each other, that's when you're really good. And it's my job to get us there."

After a year of learning, the time has come, McCoy says, to start leading.

"It's not a problem," said McCoy, 23. "I was raised to be a leader."

The Glazers, general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris created that expectation before drafting him third overall in 2010.

"They said, 'We're not going to put (your image) on the side of the stadium just because,' " McCoy said. "They wanted me to be the leader of the D-line. So, I took it upon myself to learn as a rookie because you have to serve before you can lead, and now it's time for me to take over."

So far, McCoy rates his effectiveness as a leader as good, but not great.

He didn't get the full attendance he hoped for when he tried to bring all the Bucs' defensive linemen together for workouts in San Diego. But that didn't slow him down once he got to IMG, where he was like a coach on the field, showing teammates pass-rush moves he learned last year from Warren Sapp.

"I think he's doing a great job," said defensive end Adrian Clayborn, the team's 2011 first-round pick who was among those who joined McCoy in San Diego. "He's helped me tremendously."

McCoy has taken Clayborn under his wing, in part, because he didn't have that kind of individual help last year from a fellow first-round pick and wants Clayborn to know what to expect.

"I told him, 'Look, I've been through this and this is how it's going to be,' " McCoy said. "I told him, 'It's going to be fun, but it's also going to be different than anything you've ever experienced before.' "

What was different for McCoy last year was the position he played. Though he took reps at his defensive tackle spot, he spent the early part of the season working out just as often at defensive end.

That decision, McCoy said, clearly thwarted his progress. It took him almost 10 games to find his groove and begin making an impact as a pass rusher.

"My first snap as an NFL player against Cleveland, I didn't even play (tackle)," McCoy said. "I was an end. I was moving all around. So, finally, I just said to Coach, 'Man, please let me play one position so I can learn it.'

"After that, things started working for me and I took that tape and (looked) at what I was doing right and I just built off of that. And that's what I've been doing this offseason."

He's also been rehabbing the biceps tear that ended his season after 13 games and three sacks, all of which came in his last four games after moving to under tackle. He is "100-percent healed" from the injury and has grown stronger while taking off weight.

"I'm right at 300 pounds now, and it's a good 300 pounds," McCoy said. "I left for the offseason last year at 310, but it wasn't good weight. I'd never been 300-plus before. Coach (Morris) even told me, 'You don't have to be heavy. You need to be the most in-shape guy on the field, one of the fastest guys on the field.'

"So this offseason I've been working on speed, quickness and losing weight. I've been slimming down. But I've been building muscle so I can hold those double teams even though I'm a smaller guy."

There's nothing small about the expectations surrounding McCoy. The Bucs expect him to lead the team in sacks, as well as in the locker room and in the defensive huddle. It's a lot to ask, but McCoy's doesn't mind.

"I don't mind being the leader," McCoy said. "If I have to speak up and take over, I'm happy to do it, because I love the sport, I love my team and I love winning."


rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979

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