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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' McCoy finally realizing talents

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 10:49 AM
TAMPA -

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera remembers the play as if it happened yesterday. Running back DeAngelo Williams was supposed to follow the lead of pulling right guard Geoff Hangartner.

But it never came off that way.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy ruined it.

At the snap, McCoy broke through the line in what Rivera described as the blink of an eye, hitting Hangartner and forcing Williams to take an alternate path that led him into the arms of linebacker Mason Foster, who dropped Williams for a 2-yard loss.

If you're among those wondering how in the world McCoy, who didn't even lead Bucs defensive linemen in tackles or sacks, was selected to start today's Pro Bowl, it's because of plays like that.

Though he received no statistical credit, McCoy made that play and many others just like during what his rivals say was an all-star caliber season.

"That's why I say, 'Liars figure and figures lie,' '' Rivera said. "It's not about the stats you put up. It's about the impact you make on plays. And his peers know that.

"Gerald McCoy may not make all the plays. But when you're taking up two or sometimes even three guys on a play, you're affecting the game. You're impacting the game, and that's what he does.''

McCoy's first two NFL seasons ended early with torn biceps injuries, prompting debate about his impact as the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2010. In 2012, McCoy played his first complete season.

Though he was not among the leading vote-getters in the fan portion of the Pro Bowl voting process, rival players and coaches voted McCoy onto the NFC squad with defensive tackles Henry Melton of Chicago and Justin Smith of San Francisco.

Falcons coach Mike Smith, who like Rivera has the chore of game-planning twice a year for McCoy, has a nickname for players who consistently impact plays: Game Wreckers. Smith used the term repeatedly in talking about McCoy during a break in Senior Bowl workouts last week in Mobile, Ala.

"He's the type of defensive tackle you would definitely call a game-wrecker, and as such he's the type you have to make sure you have a specific game plan for,'' Smith said. "He's just so good at disrupting your plays. We have a number of them on film, both against the run and against the pass.

"He just creates so many issues for you, whether it's forcing a back to start and stop and redirect or affecting the quarterback. What he does is slow everything down and disrupt things so that the linebackers and the other second-level players can come in and finish off the plays.

"That's why, at the defensive tackle position, you can't look at stats.''

So many do, though, which is why McCoy is seen by many as something other than an all star. He had only 30 tackles and five sacks in 2012, both of which ranked third among Bucs defensive linemen.

Teammates and rivals, though, rattle off play after play in which McCoy made a tackle for loss, a sack or even an interception possible without receiving statistical credit for his impact.

In Tampa Bay's season-opening victory against Carolina, McCoy ran Panthers quarterback Cam Newton out of bounds for a 2-yard sack that was eventually credited to safety Ronde Barber.

During a victory at Oakland, McCoy broke through the line and pressured Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer into an off-balance throw that was intercepted by rookie cornerback Leonard Johnson.

At a critical juncture in the victory against San Diego, McCoy pressured Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers into an unconscionable throw along the sideline that resulted in yet another Johnson pick.

"What people don't get is – pressure-pick, coverage-sack,'' said Tim Ryan, a former Bears defensive tackle who hosts the Sirius XM Radio show "Moving the Chains'' and is a Fox Sports analyst.

"The defensive line and the secondary work together, and you can include the linebackers in the coverage," Ryan said. "And if the pressure is there, you get the picks. If the coverage is there, you get the sacks.

"You have to link the two up, and you saw what the secondary looked like in Tampa this year and what Mason Foster was like in coverage down the middle. So, it was hard for Gerald to get the big production numbers.''

McCoy might not have had outstanding numbers, but the Bucs did. They led the league in rush defense by allowing just 82.5 yards per game and in tackles for loss with 95. McCoy had only five tackles for loss, though, and admitted to being a little frustrated with his tackle and sack numbers.

"It can get a little nerve wracking, but you just have to kind of focus on the positives,'' said McCoy, who will be joined in Hawaii today by two teammates – veteran receiver Vincent Jackson and rookie running back Doug Martin – who made the NFC squad as first alternates.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion and it seems everybody is looking for a certain number, but as long as (Bucs) coach (Greg) Schiano comes to me and says. 'You're doing what we need,' I'm good.''

Former Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo sees McCoy as a perfect fit in Tampa Bay's defense.

"I can't see why anyone would say he's not worthy of the Pro Bowl,'' Spagnuolo said. "He's always making an impact. Talent-wise, I think the world of him. You won't hear me say a bad word about him. He's a heck of a player.''

Ryan once thought McCoy was too tall to make an impact, but has changed his mind.

"I think he's better than (Detroit Lions tackle) Ndamukong Suh, because he's a little more fundamentally sound,'' Ryan said. "Suh had those big (ends) on either side of him. McCoy didn't, and I still think McCoy had a better year than Suh.''

Suh and McCoy will forever be compared because they were drafted second and third overall in 2010. Suh made the Pro Bowl this season, too, but as an alternate in place of Smith.

"The truth of the matter is, when you look at the tape you say to yourself, 'We have to have an answer for him,' " Rivera said of McCoy. "And when you start having to have answer for players, that's when you know you have a good player. That's when you know you have a Pro Bowler.''


rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979 Twitter: @RCummingsTBO

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