Walter Football's Charlie Campbell suggests that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one player who could be an outstanding candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year award: defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The third-year defender played in just six games last season, and only played a few snaps in two of those before leaving with injuries. Over the first four games, though, McCoy looked like a dominant force on the defensive line. His performances against the Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts were especially impressive, as he looked like an immovable object in run defense and a consistent force as a pass rusher. Campbell's sources apparently agree:
Right now, my pick for Comeback Player of the Year is Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The past two seasons he was playing excellent football before torn biceps injuries ended each season. I spoke with a coach from an AFC West team a few months ago who was doing some film study to prepare for playing Tampa Bay this season. The coach said that McCoy was phenomenal against Atlanta in 2011 and was dominating the line of scrimmage. He also played a great game against the Colts before getting injured. McCoy was really coming on and turning into a difference-maker.
McCoy hasn't gotten much help from the Bucs organization. He's had three different defensive line coaches in three years, and is now on his second defensive scheme. Those coaches have all taught different techniques, so McCoy has spent his preparation time learning new concepts rather than mastering and refining coaching points he's all ready developed.
Continuity makes a massive difference in the NFL, but McCoy has had none. Another new change this year for McCoy is that he will have some two-gap responsibilities. In college and his first two years in the NFL, McCoy played one gap with the assignment to cause disruption by firing through his gap. That fit him well, so it will be interesting to see how he adjusts.
Gerald McCoy doesn't just have the talent to be a dominant player, he has demonstrated that ability in games. The question isn't so much whether McCoy can get better, it's just whether he can stay healthy. And that could be a problem: he ended both of his first two season on injured reserve with identical injuries to separate arms. In both seasons, he tore a biceps after grabbing at a running back who was going past him. That's not an injury you see often, even though that's a pretty common scenario for defensive linemen: they don't usually get clean shots at tackles, and you'll see stretched out arms in every game. Are McCoy's torn biceps caused by a structural issue? That could be a real problem.
If he can stay healthy, McCoy can be a dominant player. Unfortunately, the Bucs have a lot of players for which the "if X then can be Y" construction goes. And not all of those conditions will be fulfilled, realistically speaking. There's reason for optimism, but there's also an incredibly amount of uncertainty surrounding the 2012 Buccaneers.