The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have two star players that make their defense go: Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy. We all know how good they are: McCoy's made three consecutive Pro Bowls, was named a first-team All-Pro once and a second-team All-Pro once and has 23 sacks over the past three seasons. Lavonte David's accolades are a little more ephemeral, mostly limited to one first-team All-Pro selection and a ludicrous amount of tackles, but that has more to do with the way the NFL prioritizes edge rushers over 4-3 outside linebackers.
Given that both players have been playing at a very high level for years, one would think they'd more or less reached their ceiling, but Lovie Smith doesn't think so. In part two of an interview with Scott Smith over at Buccaneers.com, Lovie Smith emphasized that McCoy and David will continue to grow into their roles in their second year in this defense.
"Gerald had a great year but Gerald will tell you he has high goals - 15+ sacks. The great ones that we've had, the great one, Warren Sapp, those were the type of numbers he was talking about. Gerald is looking at those types of numbers.
"And for Lavonte David, Lavonte had a very good year last year with tackles and things like that, but (we want) more of the splash plays, interceptions. A high standard for Lavonte."
Lavonte David's relative lack of splash has been a bit oversold. He wasn't asked to blitz much, which certainly limits his opportunities for splash plays, but he still had three passes defensed, four forced fumbles and a sack. That's pretty good, though the number of interceptions would ideally be higher than zero. If David stayed at that level of his career, though, the Bucs would have a very, very productive player -- anything beyond that is a bonus.
And the same is true for Gerald McCoy. Could he get to 15 sacks in a season? I don't see why not. He's consistently at the top or near the top for pressures among defensive tackles, gets by offensive guards like nobody's business and has certainly shown himself to be a sack artist -- all he needs is a little more time from the secondary, as quarterbacks often get rid of the ball before he can even get there. But if he manages eight sacks for the rest of his career -- well, we should all be fine with that, because it's more than good enough to make the entire defensive line go as long as he keeps up his disruptive presence as a whole.
Can Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David get even better? Yes. Is that a realistic expectation, though? I would say not really, and we shouldn't expect them to, either. The level they've played at these past couple of years is already outstanding and should be more than good enough for a very good defense to emerge around them -- as long as everyone pulls their weight as well.