McCoy is still searching for ways to make impact
It had been another afternoon of mostly fruitless work for Gerald McCoy. The prize of this year's draft for the Buccaneers spent most of the game chasing Drew Brees but never catching him.
That was bad enough, but seeing New Orleans rush for 212 yards might have been worse. Third-string back Chris Ivory had 158 of those. When a team runs for that kind of number, your butt basically is being kicked all over the field.
McCoy takes that personally, especially when it ends in a 31-6 loss. It's more than just one loss, though. A game like this magnifies the fact McCoy is still searching for his first National Football League sack — still searching for a lot of things, actually.
"I am so worried about playing the thing the right way instead of just making the play, it's slowing me down," he said. "I've just got to get out of it."
None of this is what the Bucs had in mind when they made the defensive tackle from Oklahoma their top selection in April. "When the defense isn't playing well, it's my fault. That's just how I feel," he said.
"I've been in the film room early, I've stayed late. I don't know what it is but I'm going to keep working. I just have to fix it."
While he doesn't have a sack in five games, most of his teammates don't either. The Bucs have an NFL-worst four sacks and it's becoming a real issue. Pressure can do the job almost as well as a sack, but the Bucs aren't even getting that.
You know how many times they actually hit Brees in this game? That would be zero. Everything bad that happened to the Bucs defensively stemmed from that. By early in the second quarter, Brees had completed all but one of the eight passes he had thrown and two of them went for touchdowns. The Saints had control and it was never close after that.
Brees sorted through receiving options like he was trying to decide which tomato was freshest at the produce stand so, of course, he was going to complete passes. Creating pressure is one of the many reasons McCoy was brought here.
"I know Drew Brees does a great job in the pocket. I know they do a great job of protection. I know they do a great job of keeping him off the ground," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said, while declining to point a finger at any particular defender.
Back in the locker room, McCoy had the pained look that rookies sometimes get when adapting to the NFL.
"I'm young and trying to do it the way the coaches say do it instead of just releasing it. I'm trying to be so gap sound and play within the scheme of the defense," he said.
"I'm still trying to learn when to fall back, how long to stay in my gap, and those things. The thing is, I'm working at it. I don't accept the way I've been playing, or we've been playing. I go home and think about it, come back, and how can I get better?"
Warren Sapp is the gold standard of defensive tackles for this franchise and he didn't blow the league up his first year. Monte Kiffin used to say that defensive linemen make the biggest leap between the first and second seasons. McCoy and his rookie linemate, Brian Price, are just getting started.
Defensive tackle Roy Miller knows what they're going through. He had the rookie indoctrination last year. "Those guys are so close to making plays a lot of times. You'll see Gerald and Brian Price so close to making sacks. That's what bothers you the most. These guys are so close to having three sacks apiece right now, and it's just not happening," he said.
"In my eyes, they're doing everything they can — working hard, staying after and watching film. They're doing all the things right. You can't put any of this on one person."
In the coming days, there will be more film to watch and more technique to master. "I'm not getting discouraged — no, no, no. That hasn't crossed my mind. I'm not discouraged. I just have to play better," McCoy said.
Presumably, it will all become natural at some point and McCoy will begin to have the impact everyone expected.
Until then, days like Sunday are just part of the learning curve and Drew Brees is still waiting for a formal introduction from a rookie still feeling his way.
|About the writer|
Joe Henderson writes a regular Sunday column for The Tampa Tribune for many years although during the NFL season, turns his attentions to the Buccaneers and often writes gameday features for the paper and TBO.com.