Week 6 of the 2009 NFL season was as helpless and frustrating of a situation as I've ever seen in a football game. After tying up the Panthers at 21 with a little over 8 minutes to play in the game, the Buccaneer defense came onto the field looking to get a stop with enough time to give the offense the ball for one last drive. Instead, what followed was one of the most gut-wrenching, blood-letting scoring drives I have ever witnessed.
If it wasn't abundantly clear to Buccaneer fans that the defensive front needed a boost, it was all but undeniable at that point. Yes, part of the anemic performance derived from the failed attempt to adapt the current roster to Jim Bates' 2-gap scheme....as evident by the improved play of the defense following the switch back to a base hybrid form of the Tampa Two. However, you ultimately are what your stats say you are, and the Buccaneer defense finished tied for 26th in the league in sacks generated and dead last in rushing YPG allowed and YPC allowed.
So entering the 2010 draft, it was almost a given that the Buccaneers had to select a defensive lineman(men) with their first pick(s), and to the joy of Buccaneer fans, the Bucs didn't disappoint. With the third overall pick, they pulled the trigger on DT Gerald McCoy. As jubilant Buccaneer fans around me at Raymond James Stadium embraced and high-fived following the selection, the joy and enthusiasm showed from McCoy as he embraced the commissioner.
And why not? This is a kid you've got to like and be excited about.
First and foremost, McCoy has the skillset and physical gifts to succeed with the Bucs and pretty much any one-gap assignment-based system. In fact, according to McCoy, the defensive scheme in which McCoy played at Oklahoma was very similar to the system he's working into in Tampa.....basically a react-and-read versus a read-and-react type of difference:
"It's jumping the ball but reading at the same time,'' McCoy said. "At Oklahoma, you also had to jump the ball and react to what you see. Here, it's as soon as the ball or the man moves, you jump the ball. You still jump the ball, but you see where the man is going first. Whereas at Oklahoma, you jump the ball then see the man. It's just flipped.'
Sounds like both systems have the common denominator of hitting the assigned gap with a quick first step, with McCoy required to find the ballcarrier and react immediately thereafter in his new system. Why I think McCoy could be good in this read-and-react type of system is that, instead of just flying through the gap ahead of him and thereafter locating the man up the field and pursuing like he did at Oklahoma, he can use his impressive lateral speed and good use of his hands to stay free and able to move down the line of scrimmage. This would be particularly effective on outside and offtackle runs.
Obviously, on passing downs, McCoy should be able to pin his ears back and get on the outside shoulder of that guard and ride him up the field. His linemate, be it Price or Miller, should be able to draw the attention of the center and give McCoy the opportunity to take on the opposing guard in a one-on-one situation.
The only concern I have, if any, with a read-and-react type of assignment with McCoy is that he, at times, will keep his head low at the snap (although it's certainly not a bad pad level for power moves) and seem to lose sight of the man....running past the ballcarrier or moving away from the play. That might have had to do with his requirement in college of beating his blocker, gaining entry into the gap first, and reacting to what he found....as opposed to following the man at first movement.
What's more, McCoy appears to have the right attitude for the job. He came into rookie camp knowing he's the man that coaches, players, fans, and media will be watching very closely this offseason and training camp. He reportedly didn't disappoint, getting on other camp members to finish plays and leading from the front with his high level of play. If he can inspire his elder teammates with the same passion on the field that he's shown off of it, this defense can only become the better for it.