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Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Bucs’ McCoy becoming dominant force in the middle

TAMPA — A passionate debate broke out in the Buccaneers locker room this week between rookie running back Bobby Rainey and veteran defensive tackle Gerald McCoy over, of all things, the best new gaming system.

Rainey stood firm on the side of the PS4, arguing that it had by far the more navigable controllers, while McCoy threw his support behind the Xbox One, saying it simply provided a better overall gaming experience.

“That’s why I’ve got two of them,’’ McCoy said.

Gaming systems aren’t the only thing McCoy has been collecting the past few weeks. The leader of the most effective Bucs pass rush in nearly a decade, he’s been collecting quarterback sacks at an even greater clip.

After recording two sacks in his first eight games, McCoy has notched seven in his past seven games, including one in each of the past three, and is poised to reach the double-digit mark for the first time in his career.

Not that he wants to talk about it much. Shortly after the debate over the merits of the PS4 and the Xbox One simmered down, McCoy tried to squelch the growing dialogue about Sack No. 10.

“I’d rather talk about getting Win No. 5 this week against the Saints,’’ McCoy said before relenting on the subject. “I mean, it would obviously feel great to get it. It would be a huge milestone.’’

A rare one, too, especially for a defensive tackle. In Bucs history, only two defensive tackles (Warren Sapp in 1997, 1999 and 2000, and Santana Dotson in 1992) have recorded 10 sacks in a season.

Only one other Bucs defensive tackle (Brad Culpepper in 1998) recorded nine sacks in a season, and there are currently only two NFL defensive tackles (Tennessee’s Jurrell Casey and Buffalo’s Kyle Williams, each with 10.5) who have recorded more than nine sacks this year.

“For a player inside to get 10 sacks, that doesn’t happen a lot, so for Gerald to get that, it would be a great honor,’’ said Bucs coach Greg Schiano, who remembers a time not long ago when all the McCoy talk was about his lack of sacks.

That was two years ago, at the beginning of Schiano’s Bucs tenure. McCoy, the Bucs’ 2010 first-round draft pick, was coming off his second consecutive season lost to a biceps tear, and with only four sacks in 19 games, he had quickly become the subject of disdain.

“When I arrived here, there wasn’t a heck of a lot of excitement about Gerald,’’ Schiano said. “That B-word (bust) was even being mentioned. But all he’s done is busted his rear end to be in great physical condition and to play. And obviously last year was a Pro Bowl season for him, which was big. And I think this year is a Pro Bowl season for him, too. He has really been doing some great things in the pass rush for us.’’

Indeed. And it’s not just sacks that McCoy is accruing. With 13 quarterback hits and 56 quarterback hurries, he also leads all defensive tackles in total quarterback pressures with 78, six more than Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh.

As Schiano suggested, that and his 34 runs stops, which rank fifth in the league among defensive tackles, has McCoy in a position to earn his second consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl.

That’s a rare achievement, too. Only seven Bucs defensive players (Lee Roy Selmon, Hugh Green, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Simeon Rice and Sapp) have earned two straight Pro Bowl berths.

And don’t think McCoy doesn’t know it.

“Sapp said to me last year, ‘Now that you have one (Pro Bowl) under your belt, what are you going to do? Because when you put a string of them together, that’s when you become elite,’ ’’ McCoy said.

“So to go to a second straight (Pro Bowl), that would mean a lot. And not just to me, but to my teammates. How hard they played this year around me, them doing their part to allow me to do what I do. That would be huge. I mean, it’s been a long time since we’ve had somebody go to two straight Pro Bowls.’’

It’s been seven years, to be precise. Barber was the last to do it, making the NFC squad three years in a row beginning in 2004.

It’s been even longer since the Bucs last had a player register 10 or more sacks.

Rice was the last to do that, with 14 in 2005, but you have to go all the way back to 2000 to find the last time a Bucs defensive tackle (Sapp, 16.5) registered more than nine sacks.

That 10th one isn’t likely to come easy either, not with the Bucs facing Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who has traditionally been one of the more difficult quarterbacks to sack, and he has been that again this year.

The Saints this year have allowed Brees to be taken down just 36 times. That is 2.5 sacks below the league average, and it makes Brees the ninth-least sacked quarterback in the league.

“It’s definitely difficult to get him,’’ said McCoy, who registered his first sack of this season against Brees during the Bucs’ first meeting with the Saints in Week 2. “He does a great job of moving in the pocket.

“I think people underestimate his athleticism, and he’s really crafty. A lot of people get him on the ground, but he gets the ball out before they do. Even when he’s going down, sometimes he’ll flip it out so you can’t get the sack.

“So we have to keep him bottled up, put him in a well, as the coaches say, and force him to throw out of it. If we can do that, I think we can frustrate him. And if I get that sack, great. But I’d still prefer to get that fifth win.’’

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