McCoy’s Favorite Number: 16

Gerald McCoy had a career-high five sacks in 2012 and led the Buccaneers’ defense with 16 quarterback hits.  He racked up nine more tackles in the opposing backfield and was a linchpin in the NFL’s top-ranked rushing defense.  He was rewarded in December with his first Pro Bowl berth and by some measures was among the best defensive tackles in all of football in his third pro campaign.

Beyond all those stats and honors, however, is one number that meant the most to McCoy, to the point that he almost choked up a bit before and after the Buccaneers’ season-ending win in Atlanta two weeks ago.  That number is 16, as in games played in 2012, as in all of them.

McCoy, of course, was the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft and a player assumed to be destined for greatness after his spectacular college career at Oklahoma.  And he most definitely showed signs of that potential stardom during parts of 2010 and 2011, especially in the first month of his second season.  Unfortunately, the most memorable part of the story of McCoy’s first two NFL years were a pair of bicep injuries, one to each arm, each one bringing a season to an end.

Those freak accidents, which occurred relatively late in 2010 but early in 2011, not only suppressed his raw numbers but also had several other unfortunate effects.  They unsurprisingly kicked off whispers of McCoy being “injury prone,” and they meant his first two full NFL offseasons were as much about rehabilitation as refinement of his game.

And so he made no secret of the fact that playing in all 16 games in 2012 was a major goal of his, no matter what other numbers might follow.  He knew he wasn’t injury prone, but McCoy, who leans heavily on his faith, also did not know what God’s plan for him was.  He desperately wanted to experience Week 17 in the NFL – preferably with a playoff spot on the line, but not everything went according to plan – and that’s why he had some raw emotions in Atlanta on December 30.

“I kind of got emotional in the locker room after the game,” he recounted.  “I started thinking through everything I went through to get to that point.  I told the guys before the game – the D-Line always does a little breakdown – I told them, ‘Man, you’ve got to look at this game as a privilege and a blessing and an honor to play, because I’ve never seen this week before.’  This is my third season and it’s my first time seeing it.  I kind of got emotional.”

“It was a long journey.  To a lot of people, it may not mean anything, but if you’ve never been through what I’ve been through then you wouldn’t understand.”

So now, no more whispers.  And, even more importantly, McCoy gets to walk into the 2013 offseason with a fresh slate and nothing holding him back from the field.  He made impressive strides between his first and second season and between his second and third, despite the necessary rehab, so there’s reason to believe that a more comprehensive spring and summer of work will push his game to yet another level.

However, he does have one more game to play, after all.  His Bucs aren’t in the playoffs this month, but he’ll be headed to Hawaii at the end of January to take part in the 2013 Pro Bowl.  So maybe McCoy’s favorite number of 2012 was actually 17.

“It’s going to be great,” said McCoy of his upcoming Pro Bowl experience.  “It’s not the game I’d rather be playing in but, shoot, I definitely don’t mind it.  It’s going to be a lot of fun.  I’m just going to take it all in enjoy it and just have fun with it.”

Tenth Sack Eludes Bennett, But He Gets Something Better

Mike Williams came up four yards short of his quest for his first 1,000-yard season as an NFL receiver on Sunday, but he nevertheless led the team with six catches for 65 yards and scored the touchdown that put the Buccaneers up for good.  It was a satisfying day for him, even without that fourth digit being added to his receiving total, because his team beat the NFC’s top seed, Atlanta, on their own home turf and he had a lot to do with that.

Michael Bennett feels the same way.  Bennett, the Buccaneers’ underrated left defensive end, came into the Buccaneers’ season finale needing one more sack to get to 10 on the season.  That was his “double-digit” goal, as it would have made him the first Buccaneer to reach that mark since Simeon Rice back in 2005.  As it turned out, Bennett was shut out in the sack category, but he and the Bucs’ front line put a lot of heat on QB Matt Ryan, and that was instrumental in keeping the Falcons to their lowest point total and second-lowest yardage total of the entire season. Continue reading

Miller Thrilled for His Pro Bowl Teammate

The NFL world found out on Wednesday that Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy is a Pro Bowler.  Roy Miller, McCoy’s fellow starter in the middle of Tampa Bay’s line, has known it for years.

Miller was drafted by the Buccaneers in 2009, one year before the team brought in McCoy with the third overall pick.  Both players have had career years in 2012, forming the immovable wall in the middle of the line that has been so critical to the league’s best run defense.  Both players have appeared in all 15 games so far, which was a victory in itself for McCoy, who missed 13 games in his first two seasons due to a pair of freak arm injuries. Continue reading

Pro Bowl Just the Beginning for McCoy

At the end of his third NFL season, and his first complete pro campaign, Gerald McCoy made the Pro Bowl.  In his mind, that is just the launching point of his career…and that isn’t a reference to any future Pro Bowls or other individual honors that may come along.

McCoy intends to be even better in 2014, but with a different sort of postseason action in mind. Continue reading

Jackson a “Big” Concern

Last week, the Buccaneers’ top-ranked run defense gave up 149 yards to the Saints, their second-highest total allowed in 2012.  Much of that yardage came on plays that stretched to the outside, the result of what Head Coach Greg Schiano called “perimeter support issues.”

Before that game, the Bucs had held five of their previous six opponents below 100 rushing yards.  If they want to get back on that track Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, the issue likely is not going to be perimeter support again.  This latest challenge is going to coming straight at them.

That challenge is veteran back Steven Jackson, one of the NFL’s most productive runners of the past decade.  Jackson is 91 yards away from his eighth straight 1,000-yard season, and he hasn’t slowed much through the years. Continue reading

McCoy, Bradford Have Mutual Admiration

Gerald McCoy knows a little “secret” about his buddy Sam Bradford that isn’t widely known: Bradford is faster than everyone realizes.  A LOT faster.

“I don’t mean he’s a little bit faster…he’s way faster than people think, and he can outrun you because of his long stride,” said McCoy on Friday, two days before the two former Oklahoma Sooner teammates will meet on an NFL greensward for the second time.  The first and third overall picks in the 2010 draft, McCoy and Bradford opposed each other just seven weeks into their shared rookie season, with the Buccaneers rallying for an 18-17 win over the Rams.

The Bucs and Rams meet again on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, and the two former Sooners have progressed nicely in their respective careers since that first meeting.  Having his first fully healthy season, McCoy has emerged as a Pro Bowl contender and one of the league’s most disruptive interior linemen.  Bradford is putting up career-best numbers in almost every category and has helped the Rams post a 4-0-1 record so far in the competitive NFC South.

Though this week might be a minor exception, both McCoy and Bradford are pleased to see each other doing so well in the NFL. Continue reading

Martin’s Role Won’t Diminish

Doug Martin insists he has not experienced a rookie wall.  The Buccaneers don’t plan to erect one in front of him, either.

In news that will please Buccaneer fans and any Doug Martin fantasy football owners who happen to be in their league finals, Head Coach Greg Schiano said on Monday that he does not intend to reduce the load on his rookie back during the final two weeks.  While conceding that his team is now out of the playoff race, Schiano still sees value in playing the last two games with a full deck, and Martin is definitely one of his aces. Continue reading

A Variety of Factors Led to Sunday’s Interceptions

Josh Freeman had his worst statistical game of the season on Sunday in New Orleans, and his Buccaneers obviously had their worst day of 2012, losing by more than one score for the first time in a 41-0 defeat.  Freeman’s four-pick day was his first outing of the year with more than two interceptions, and only his fourth game with more than one.  On paper, it looks nothing like the midseason stretch during which he threw 16 touchdowns against just three interceptions and the Bucs won five of six.

In the estimation of Head Coach Greg Schiano, however, those two extremes aren’t really as far apart as they appear. Continue reading

Determined to Rebound

In Week 15 of the 1999 season, the Buccaneers went to Oakland feeling confident and, in a completely unexpected turn of events, lost 45-0, their worst shutout defeat ever.  The very next week, back at home, the Bucs rebounded to defeat their archrivals at the time, the Green Bay Packers, 29-10.

On Sunday, in Week 15 of the current season, the Buccaneers went to New Orleans feeling confident and, in a completely unexpected turn of events, were shut out, 41-0.  In six days, they’ll be back on the field at Raymond James Stadium to take on the St. Louis Rams.

The two situations are not exactly the same.  The ’99 squad rode a six-game winning streak into Oakland and was still 9-5 after the loss, squarely in the playoff race.  It wouldn’t lose again until the NFC Championship Game.  The 2002 team had lost three straight heading into New Orleans and almost certainly needed a win to keep its slim playoff hopes alive.

But the pride of the players is the same, and the follow-up game may be just as critical, even if it doesn’t lead to the postseason. Continue reading

Penn in Pro Bowl Form Again

Through the first 13 games of the 2012 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense ranks 10th in the NFL in yards per carry and seventh in sacks allowed per pass play, two of the statistics most commonly used to judge the effectiveness of an offensive line.  Only one other team in the NFL – the New York Giants – ranks in the top 10 in both of those categories.

Had a Buccaneers’ fan jumped directly from March, shortly after the team signed Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks away from the New Orleans Saints, to December, he might not find that statistic too surprising.  After pairing Nicks with fellow Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks and installing Jeremy Zuttah at center, his best position, the Bucs believed they had built their offensive front into one of the team’s major strengths.

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan, however.  Joseph went down with a season-ending knee injury in the preseason and Nicks followed him to injured reserve after just seven games due to a toe ailment.  Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood got hurt early on, was replaced by Demar Dotson at right tackle, then later suffered his own season-ending injury.  Zuttah had to move from center back to left guard, with Ted Larsen sliding in at center.  Jamon Meredith, a converted tackle took over at right guard.  All of those players deserve extensive kudos, but this certainly wasn’t the offensive line the Bucs were envisioning in March.

Except for the left tackle position.  Rolling on towards his 90th consecutive start at that position, Donald Penn has been the anchor that has held that shifting line together. Continue reading