I owe Gerald McCoy an apology. As sports writers we’re quick to thump our chests and crow when we get something right, so it’s only fair that we tip our caps when we’ve been wrong. And admittedly, I’ve been somewhat wrong about McCoy.
Before the 2010 season the Buccaneers picked McCoy 3rd overall, gave him a mega-deal (as was standard) and hoped he would be the answer in the middle of the line.
I wasn’t impressed with his rookie year, I don’t think many people were. The knock was he skated by on athleticism in college and that looked like it caught up to him in year one. To his credit he did kick it into form and pick things up his last few games but ended the season on IR.
Last year though he came back strong, he was a much better defensive tackle and quite frankly the Bucs were never the same after his injuries. I didn’t see it as much the first half the season, I admit I was anxiously watching the ends and occasionally checking up on Mason Foster in the middle. My attention was not on McCoy.
But when things turned bad I blamed him, and then when he came back and tried to play hurt I did notice him and not for the right reasons.
I’ve been pretty vocal in my criticisms of McCoy, called him overrated, said he might be a bust, even invoked the boy named Suh.
But then I went back and started watching old game film. I started watching the way McCoy was utilized, how he handled his responsibilities, how his technique had improved and he was playing with a nasty streak like he had at the end of 2010. McCoy was a much better tackle in 2011 than he was in 2010. Everything from his pass-rushing repertoire to his leverage was much improved and he came back from the off-season stronger. There was nothing wrong with McCoy when he was healthy in 2011, he actually was anchoring the middle of the line.
Before McCoy got hurt early in the game at San Francisco the Bucs had gone 3-1 and their defense was showing signs of promise. They had held a very potent Falcons offenses to just 13 points two weeks earlier. Then he went down. They dropped the 49er game without him, got absolutely obliterated on the line. Then they proceeded to go 1-11 the rest of the year.
McCoy rolled up an ankle against the 49ers, he was fortunate not to break it but he got the always unenviable high ankle sprain for his trouble. Those don’t heal quickly and he was out a couple weeks. When he came back it was clearly not 100%, you can see it clear as day on the film. Then he tore his bicep to ice the cake.
It was frankly an inauspicious ending to a year that McCoy deserves more credit for. He did his part in the off-season, put in the work and came back better. He was a leader on the team.
And I have been wrong about that. I was wrong about his impact and wrong about his example. Without him the Buccaneers defense was far worse.
It’s still going to be up to Greg Schiano to turn McCoy into a dominant defensive player and get a high return on the nearly 35 million in guaranteed money Tampa is paying the former Sooner, but that will have more to do with keeping him healthy than performing magic.
It turns out McCoy is a pretty good NFL defensive tackle already.