Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown spoke with media after the first day of Bucs minicamp. From the back of the pack, a voice called out.
“Hey, Josh. Josh! What do you think of Gerald McCoy?”
“Gerald? The jury is still out on that guy,” McCown said with a grin.
The man who asked the question, Gerald McCoy, walked away smiling.
It's looking like a Bucs summer in Tampa Bay. The Rays have given up their ghost. Plus, the Bucs are smiling again, all over headquarters. It's nothing new for McCoy, the team's two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle. Only now he has company.
“It's been a while, I can honestly say, since you've seen guys smile this much and have this much fun,” McCoy said. “We were a tight-knit group last year. That's how we got through all that circus. However, this group is really tight-knit and we're having a lot of fun throughout the whole building. It's just a completely different feel around the building.”
Greg Schiano was fired out of a cannon. Lovie Smith is here. End of circus.
“It didn't change me at all,” McCoy said. “You've never seen me not smile.”
He's coming off a 91⁄2-sack season. He's entering the final year of the $63.4 million deal he signed after the Bucs drafted him third overall in 2010. He'll get a new contract before long, larger still. He has new defensive linemates, end Michael Johnson and tackle Clinton McDonald, experienced guys, playoff tested. McDonald just won a Super Bowl in Seattle.
But Gerald McCoy, 26, anchors this Bucs defense. He's a team leader, maybe the leader, but he's still looking for his first postseason. Smiles he's got.
“He just brings life into the building every day,” Lovie Smith said. “You want your best player to be a little outspoken. You want to hear him. We hear Gerald. You want him around always, and he's around always. He's at the front of the line. Again, we're talking about a superstar. It's no secret, he's getting ready to give all of us a loan if we need it. No one works harder than him out there. We have big plans for him. He's going to lead us to a lot of wins.”
Best player. Superstar.
It could be a McCoy summer, too, and fall, and winter.
Darrelle Revis isn't here anymore. How do you replace him?
“By being a team,” McCoy said. “Darrelle Revis is one guy. We've got to become a team. Revis, that's one of the guys I was closest to on the team, because he took me underneath his wing and showed me the ropes on how to be a vet and be what people expect you to be. I hated to see him go, but this is a team. This is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's not the Revises.”
McCoy never mentioned his last head coach by name while talking about life under Lovie.
“It's just as tough as it was last year,” McCoy said. “It's just being gone about completely differently. We're professionals. Treat us like professionals. It's as simple as that.”
This will be his fifth NFL season. The first two years were filled with talk about that big rookie contract, or the injuries that dragged those two first seasons, or how Ndamukong Suh, taken just ahead of McCoy in the same draft, was the better player. No one says that anymore. McCoy has made his mark. I'd take him over Suh, and not just because he isn't nearly as foolish.
“I'm a perfectionist,” McCoy said. “Any little thing, even if it's one mistake, it eats away at me that night. ... I had nine and a half sacks last year and I'm watching a play against New York, like the second or third down of the game. And I got a hit on Geno (Smith), but if I had just reached my hand out I would have knocked the ball out. That's double digits right there. Little stuff I can improve on is what I focus on.”
Individual numbers don't mean anything without playoffs.
“I'm furious about that,” McCoy said. “That's eating away at me, man. I do all this training and preparing, trying to do what I can for my team, for us to get to the playoffs. I just want to experience it.”
He knows it will take more than smiles.