On one hand, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a little frustrated that the constant pressure they put on Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard on Saturday night didn't produce any sacks.
On the other hand, did you see the pressure the Bucs' defense put on the quarterback Saturday night?!
In the third preseason game for each team, the Buccaneers and Jaguars kept their starters on the field for the entire first half. That provided Tampa Bay's staff with a good opportunity to evaluate its young front-line defense against a legitimate foe. The best thing they saw, other than Barrett Ruud's game-turning goal-line interception and 80-yard return, was the defensive line taking up residency in Jacksonville's backfield.
Best of all, it was rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy leading the charge. The third overall pick in this year's draft gave the Bucs a huge dose of the one thing their defense has been missing for years – pressure up the middle. At times, McCoy teamed with fellow rookie DT Brian Price, the Bucs' second pick in the draft, to produce the type of combination rushes that should prove fearsome in the years to come."
"The D-line's motto is the quarterback has to feel us," said McCoy. "That's what we wanted to do and I feel we did that. We kind of gave the fans a glimpse of what to expect. "
Statistically, McCoy finished the game with one tackle and one quarterback hit, but that certainly didn't tell the story of his impact on the game. Neither did the Buccaneers' lack of sacks. In the first half alone, Tampa Bay defensive linemen were credited with six hits on Garrard; it is a credit to the Jaguars' mobile quarterback that he still managed to make several big plays despite that pressure.
On one third-and-nine play in the second quarter, for instance, McCoy busted immediately through the line and rushed directly up the middle at Garrard, who had to heave up an off-balance throw down the middle. Wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker went down to make a grass-scraping catch for a first down, with the Bucs challenging the ruling via replay but losing. That play didn't end up in the Buccaneers' favor, but the coaching staff will gladly take many more hurried throws by their opponents this season. This, too: That drive reached midfield but ended in a punt as the Bucs' starting defense continued to get out of tough situations on Saturday night. Jacksonville's starting offense produced only two field goals in the first half.
"They were able to create some first downs, to get some big-time first downs, and Garrard moved his legs a little around the pocket and created some plays and did a bunch of different things, but I'm all about really, trying to get the ball and keeping those guys from doing some of those things they're able to do."
McCoy seemed to be in the middle of the action throughout the first half. In the first quarter, he and Price produced one of those inspiring combo plays, where McCoy's initial penetration drew an extra blocker out of position and Price then accelerated immediately through the resulting hole. A few minutes later, McCoy fought through a block on a running play and dived into the path of RB Rashad Jennings, who had to bounce out wider and was subsequently tackled for a loss. On the very next snap, McCoy got through the line immediately and chased Garrard out of the pocket and to the right. It was even McCoy who eventually chased Garrard out of bounds on a busted third-down play in which the shotgun snap sailed over the quarterback's head.
"I'm having a lot of fun and learning a lot playing in the preseason games," said McCoy. "There was a lot I had to learn that I didn't know I needed to learn, but I picked up on it quick. I'm starting to adjust and every game I'm building off the last game. The last game I got to the quarterback a few times and this game I stayed in his face so if I keep building on that then I'll get better."
Price has had to accelerate his own learning curve after missing a good portion of training camp with a hamstring injury. He didn't play in the preseason opener at Miami and was somewhat limited in his exposure against Kansas City last week. Saturday's game against Jacksonville was the first good opportunity to evaluate McCoy and Price together, and it seemed to promise very good things. Veteran center Jeff Faine, for one, was very impressed with Price's play.
"He's really quick off the ball," said Faine. "That's the biggest thing I can say about him – his explosion on the ball, that first step, is extremely, extremely quick. It's surprisingly quick. He has a knack for timing and snap counts, and at such a young age. You can see why he's such a highly-touted player."
Both McCoy and Price were well-regarded prospects this past spring, obviously. They were selected to fill a specific and significant need for the Buccaneers, and while they are a very young tandem, they appear as if they're ready to make an immediate impact. Neither player managed to get Garrard down for a sack Saturday night, but that didn't matter much to Morris, who appreciated the bottom line.
"We held them in the first half to six points," said the coach. "We felt pretty good about that. We made a couple big plays and some of the d-linemen and those guys were able to get back there with Price in the backfield and McCoy back there a couple times. I'm really encouraged by their performance and what they'll be able to give us."