Gerald McCoy is in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room, midweek, surrounded by teammates showering up from practice and blasting music from their lockers. McCoy is not sweaty. He hasn't practiced and he's got a walking boot on the lower half of his right leg. He's four days removed from an avert-your-eyes injury in San Francisco that had opposing players screaming to the sideline for doctors. He's almost surely not going to play on Sunday when his Buccaneers take on the rival New Orleans Saints in a battle for first place in the NFC South.
So how is Gerald McCoy feeling right about now?
All in all, pretty darn good.
If you're a Buccaneers fan worried about your team entering a critical stretch of the season without several of their key players, and you're not as comforted by the "next man up" mantra as the players and coaches are, then take solace in this: McCoy is still smiling.
The physics of the injury were of the sort that often tell you the prognosis long before a team doctor does. McCoy was engaged in a block when teammate Sean Jones fell across the back of his legs while tackling running back Frank Gore. His legs trapped, McCoy was bent awkwardly into a backwards "C" and immediately felt pain in his knee. He rolled over and waited for the Buccaneer trainers, trying to figure out what was wrong so he could help them help him.
As the dust settled, it became clear that the injury was to McCoy's ankle, not his knee. Visions of a season-ending calamity receded.
"I thought I was out of there because the pain shot straight to my knee," he said. "But that was just from my twisting my knee. It's all in my ankle. I definitely thought I was done. I went into shock. I didn't know what to tell them."
Yes, one can read too much into McCoy's smiling face, because that's what it is usually doing. But he was legitimately up-beat in the locker room on Thursday, and while Head Coach Raheem Morris used the term "week-to-week" to describe his condition on Monday, McCoy prefers "day-to-day." He wasn't willing to predict if he could return in time for the game against the Chicago Bears in London in 10 days, but he wasn't ruling it out, and that makes him feel quite fortunate.
"It's definitely a blessing," said McCoy. "I'm definitely covered by God because for how the play looked, walking right now? Definitely covered by God. He's got my back. That's definitely the truth. I'm day-by-day, and getting better. I feel good, though, I really do. Our doctors, they know what they're doing."
What is also improving McCoy's mood is the fact that he can still contribute to the team's efforts against New Orleans this week, even if he's still strapped into a boot. The second-year player has taken to heart a message that Morris preached to the team, especially such injured players as McCoy and running back LeGarrette Blount, on Wednesday. McCoy is actively joining in the process of preparing Frank Okam and Da'Quan Bowers, the two linemen who will try to fill his void during his absence.
"One thing Coach Rah told us earlier this week is that, whether you're playing or not, you're going to show how really important you are to this team when you're not playing," said McCoy. "So I've been in Frank's and Bowers' ear all week. I've been in the film room more than they have so I can help them. I've got to look at the film as if I was preparing for the game, then show that to them."
The Bucs plan to mix and match Okam, a 360-pound plugger, and Bowers, a big defensive end with a power game that translates well to the interior line, against the Saints' personnel packages. Bowers will look to provide the pass-rush spark the team gets from McCoy, and McCoy thinks he will succeed in doing so.
"He's not used to it, but his get-off and the scheme we have? We show him a few things and he'll be able to make it through this game," said McCoy. "And Frank the Tank? He's Frank. We'll just show them a few things on how to approach these guys as far as rushing them, and we'll be good. I'm just doing my part as much as I can to help them."
Despite McCoy's optimism, the Buccaneers' injury report for this week's game remains long. It includes five players who have not practiced yet this wee: McCoy, Blount (knee), linebacker Mason Foster (ankle), tight end Luke Stocker (knee) and wide receiver Sammie Stroughter. Morris did get a look at Foster during the team's Thursday workout at Tropicana Field and thought the rookie defender, Tampa Bay's leading tackler, looked "a little bit better.
Linebacker Quincy Black has improved over the course of the week after missing the San Francisco game with an ankle injury. Black was limited in practice on Wednesday but participated fully on Thursday. While Adam Hayward would fill in for Foster at middle linebacker if the latter is unavailable on Sunday, Black's potential return would be helpful, too. Black started the season as the middle linebacker in the Bucs' nickel package and could take over that role again.
The Saints' injury report includes three players who did not practice on Thursday: linebacker Will Herring (hamstring), tackle Zach Strief (knee) and tight end David Thomas (concussion). Wide receiver Devery Henderson was held out of Wednesday's practice due to a calf injury but returned to full participation on Thursday.
Through five games, Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams has 19 catches for 183 yards and one touchdown. That would put him on pace for 61 catches for 586 yards and three touchdowns over the course of a 16-game season. Last year, Williams burst onto the NFL scene with a 65-catch, 964-yard, 11-touchdown season that paced the league's rookie receivers.
Williams insists that his depressed numbers don't bother him a bit on their own, but insofar as they reflect a Buccaneers offense that is not quite as finely-tuned as it was late last year, they have caused him some concern. This week, Williams has tried to take the blame for the Bucs' on-again, off-again passing game, saying he needs to do more to help quarterback Josh Freeman succeed.
The quotes have caught the attention of the Bucs' offensive coordinator, Greg Olson, and Olson appreciates the motivation for Williams' thoughts even if he doesn't necessarily agree with the player's self-criticism.
"Mike's got big, broad shoulders, but I don't like for Mike to put that all on himself," said Olson. "Again, we win and lose as a team. There are a number of reasons why his production is down; it doesn't just fall on Mike playing poorly. For him to step up and say that, I admire that person."
Olson noted that the Buccaneers are down on "explosive plays" this season, and that is causing everyone on the offense to press a little bit. That pressing may be part of the reason that Freeman has already matched his 2010 total of six interceptions through five games. Williams is certainly one of Freeman's targets who can provide explosive plays, but he's far from the only one. Wide receiver Arrelious Benn has shown he can get downfield, wide receiver Preston Parker runs well after the catch, tight end Kellen Winslow is a weapon down the seams and Blount, when he's healthy, is a breakaway run waiting to happen.
"I think everybody in the room believes that, coaching staff included – we've all got to be better," said Olson. "I certainly admire a guy that would step up and say something like that but again that's not on Mike Williams. We can all play better, I can coach better, I can call better plays and we will have to in order for us to play better."
Williams has faced more double-teams in coverage this season, and when the Bucs' passing game has been on, it has partly been because other players have found more room to operate in the secondary. If the offense gets on track by making more use of those other players, Williams will be just fine with that outcome. Still, he plans to redouble his efforts to help Freeman get the attack on track.
"We have to go up get the ball, take the ball from corners, do what we were getting into last year, get back to doing things like that," said Williams. "It's on us, too. It's not all on Josh. We've got to do a better job of helping him, making him look good.
"We just need to get wins. If we run the ball a hundred times, I don't care – let's get a win. If we get a win, it doesn't matter. We won't be talking about what happened in the past and what was so bad. Once you get the win, it's all over. When you get a loss, that's when the mistakes are seen – 'It was because of this and because of that.' We just need to go out and get a win."
On Thursday afternoon, the Buccaneers waived rookie running back Allen Bradford, a sixth-round draft pick out of USC. The team did not immediately make another move, leaving one opening on the 53-man roster.
Bradford saw his first regular-season action this past Sunday late in the Bucs' loss to the 49ers. In addition to playing on special teams, he ran the ball five times for a total of 13 yards. During the preseason, he rushed a team-high 24 times for 47 yards and one touchdown.