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Gerald McCoy's and Warren Sapp's Rookie Seasons

After Gerald McCoy's disappointing rookie season, Bucs fans are expecting the second-year player to step up in his second season. The fact that his rookie season and his situation now are very similar to Warren Sapp's rookie season should bring hope to the hearts of Bucs' fans. 

In February 1995 Warren Sapp was on top of the world. He was coming off a dominant college career, had won a slew of awards and was projected to be a top five draft pick. And then the New York Times came out with allegations of cocaine and marijuana use, hurting his reputation. The NFL denied any positives for cocaine on drug tests but was silent on marijuana. Sapp consequently dropped all the way to #12 on draft day, where the grateful Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked up the future All-Pro. 

We all know how Warren Sapp's career went: he is a surefire Hall of Famer. But not many remember Warren Sapp's rookie season, and for good reason: the highly-touted defensive tackle managed just 3 sacks and was relegated to backup duty after just five games. Newspapers of the time speak of Warren Sapp the Underachiever, a subpar rookie season and his own defensive coordinator was quoted as calling him a major disappointment

 

But in his second year Warren Sapp stepped up, sacking the quarterback 9 times. He turned into a dominating force, the core of an improving defense. So how did this happen? To say it in his own words, Sapp was "a blind dog in a meat house" in his rookie year. In other words: he had no idea what he was doing. The coaches used him differently every game, sometimes asking him to play head-up on offensive linemen, other times asking him to shoot gaps and penetrate. 

In his second season, though, the coaching staff changed. Tony Dungy took over as head coach, appointed Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator and Rod Marinelli as defensive line coach. Those great coaches helped Sapp flourish in his second season. They changed the scheme and simplified the assignments for Warren Sapp: line up on the outside shoulder of the guard, shoot the gap, and cause havoc. And that's exactly what Sapp did. 

What's interesting here is the extent to which Gerald McCoy is going through a similar experience in his career. Both he and Sapp were highly touted rookie defensive tackles for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both managed just 3 sacks in disappointing rookie seasons, in which they were hampered by confusion caused by coaching. And both players entered their sophomore seasons with a new defensive line coach and a simpler assignment: shoot the gap and destroy. Gerald McCoy cannot be Warren Sapp - no one can - but the similarity between their careers so far is at least interesting.