As defensive tackle Gerald McCoy starts his ninth NFL training camp, you'd expect the whole experience to be old news for a veteran like him; almost monotonous. On the contrary, McCoy approaches his ninth training camp the same way he approached his first: with a rookie mentality.
"I always try and stay in the rookie mindset," McCoy said. "Always willing to learn more, knowing I can learn more and do my best to learn more. I'm not Gerald McCoy. I'm number 93 on a [90-man] roster trying to make the team. Once I make the team, then I'll be Gerald McCoy. Then I'll be a Buccaneer but until then I'm just another guy trying to make the team."
Of course, that's a little bit of an oversimplification. McCoy can say he's just another number all he wants, but the reality is that he's been a cornerstone of the franchise since he arrived. He has started every game he has played for the Buccaneers dating back to his rookie season in 2010. He's unquestionably one of the most recognizable players on the roster and maybe even the league.
McCoy has amassed his fair share of stats and accolades in his career thus far as well. Forget the Buccaneers' roster, McCoy has been a staple on the NFC's Pro Bowl roster for the past six seasons. He sits at fourth all-time in the Bucs' history books for sacks. He's spent his entire career in Tampa Bay, something that's becoming increasingly rare in today's NFL.
All that experience has served McCoy well. It's allowed him to become the veteran presence in the locker room that he never had as he was coming into the league. As a result, McCoy uses this time during (and after) training camp practices to work with the younger players on the line and pass down whatever knowledge he's accumulated over the years. He has stayed after practice to work with the likes of first-round pick Vita Vea as well as other rookies like Evan Perrizo or Demone Harris who may be more on the bubble than guys like Vea. And when I say McCoy sticks around after practice to play tutor, it's not just for five or so minutes. After the first practice, he was still going as the after-practice press conference concluded – 25 minutes after the final huddle. The second day was cut shorter only because McCoy himself came to the podium to speak with the media.
"I never want guys to have the experience I had," McCoy explained during his presser. "In my ninth year, I can honestly say I had no help. When I say help, I mean guidance for how to play this game, at least from a D-line standpoint in the building.
"I had [Warren] Sapp. I had Tommie Harris. People outside the building. I had Davin Joseph on the offensive side of the ball teach me how to be a professional. I've had Drew Brees my whole time since I've been in the NFL. I mean, that's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But I never had the guidance from inside the building, D-line-wise."
McCoy has taken that to heart. He forged his own way during his career and he's done that by realizing the fortunate position he is in to just be in the NFL in general, calling it a 'privilege, not a right.' The sentiment he made that he was just another guy trying to make the roster was as much setting an example as it was an oversimplification. If McCoy is acting like a rookie, you better believe the rookies will act like rookies. Even with that mentality, he still understands that as one of the more experienced players on the roster, at the end of the day he has a role to fulfill. It's one he does so willingly, knowing that it will only benefit the unit and team as a whole.
"I never want any D-linemen to come through Tampa and be able to say 'Man, I didn't have that vet to show me how' or 'I didn't have that guy to show me how and take extra time with me, I feel like my coach is showing me but if one of the vets would show me the way,'" McCoy said. "I never want any D-linemen to come through Tampa, while I'm here, and be able to say that. That's why I am the way I am. We're only as strong as our weakest link. If you have no weak links then [shrugs], there you go."