We already covered five things Greg Schiano must address on the offensive side of the ball, including the biggest issue he’ll face bar none. Now we turn our attention to the defense, Schiano’s specialty, where he is going to be charged with turning a young, unruly group of defenders into one fearsome unit.
Schiano made his mark working on defenses, starting under Dave Wannstedt in Chicago before really proving himself as the defensive coordinator for the Miami Hurricanes. If there’s one thing I will credit Schiano with, it’s good defensive references. He cut his teeth under Joe Paterno, Dave Wannstedt for all his shortcomings as a head coach is a phenomenal defensive mind and the Miami Hurricanes defenses Schiano presided over were masterful. I’m not sure how Schiano will help Josh Freeman and the offense, but this defense is in the right hands.
Let’s start with the biggest question facing Greg Schiano on defense:
Can he turn Gerald McCoy into a good defensive tackle?
Quick, who is the most expensive Buccaneer? If you guessed Gerald McCoy you are correct. Unlike offense, the defensive questions are all pretty even in terms of importance, but I give the edge to the challenge Gerald McCoy poses to Greg Schiano. The Bucs have nearly 60 million dollars locked up in McCoy, 35 guaranteed. Blame that on the old CBA, but no matter how you slice it, the Bucs are going to need to start seeing a return on that investment.
I don’t mean to pile on to McCoy, because he seems like a very nice man. But unless you’re Tim Tebow, being a nice guy doesn’t get you very far in the NFL. The hard-to-stomach truth is McCoy has not lived up to his draft slot the past two seasons. He’s been injured frequently, and ineffective when he is on the field.
Part of the problem is that McCoy reportedly skated by on his massive athletic ability in college. At Oklahoma, playing alongside other great players, McCoy was able to win on strength and ability instead of technique. That was the knock coming out of college, it’s still the knock in the pros.
If Greg Schiano can get Gerald McCoy to buy into his program, to become a consummate professional, he has all the tools to anchor the defensive line for a decade. McCoy can be that good. But in two years he’s yet to even scrape the surface of that massive potential. His pass rushing repertoire is still painfully limited, his versatility has been hurt by the way the previous staff brought him along and I would imagine his confidence needs a boost too.
Schiano needs to get McCoy to become excellent from a fundamental standpoint, if he can teach the young DT to add more pass-rushing moves, to use better leverage and technique on running plays and if he can approve McCoy’s approach, the Bucs will start to see GMC live up to his billing.
What can’t happen is to allow McCoy to continue down the current path. If he’s truly injury prone he can’t help that, but it’s important to make sure he starts working out and approaching his job more professionally to minimize any of the hiccups that can set a guy back. The Bucs were a sieve along the line last year, and though McCoy was hurt for the better part of that, it’s not like they were shutting offenses down before he went out.
McCoy needs to be a more dynamic presence in the middle of the line. He has to improve. Part of the problem is he’s yet to have a consistent partner in the middle, but part of it is just McCoy hasn’t played that well so far.
It’s going to be absolutely crucial that Schiano, and the men he hires, get McCoy on track. If he doesn’t start to get things rolling the Bucs eat somewhere between 35 and 60 million dollars on him. Though Schiano isn’t going to lose his job if McCoy doesn’t pan out (as he could with Freeman), he’s still represents the most important issue Schiano must confront on defense.