It's no secret that Gerald McCoy is a big fan of comic book superheroes. The Buccaneers' Pro Bowl defensive tackle has twice bought out entire showings of Marvel movie premieres to share with his fans. He is somewhat of an authority on the topic.
READ: THURSDAY'S INJURY REPORT
So maybe it carries a little more weight when McCoy says that Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is closer to the superhero persona he invokes after touchdowns than he has any right to be.
Photos of the Panthers' projected starters from team's website.
"That dude really might be Superman," referring to Newton's preferred display of mimicking a reveal of the Superman logo on his chest. "His rookie year, he flew in the end zone three times against us. I've just seen him do like an Olympic flip the last week or two weeks ago. Basically he is landing on both feet. That's why I say people like that are mutants. He shouldn't be able to do that. 6'6", 260 [pounds] or whatever he is, runs almost as fast as the fastest dude on the field and he's doing that. I don't think it's legal for him to be playing in the league. That's not fair."
READ: PANTHERS SCOUTING REPORT
Perhaps not, but it's this week's challenge for McCoy and the Buccaneers defense, as Newton brings the 3-0 Panthers to town for a division game that looms rather large for the home team. Tampa Bay is off to a 1-2 start but has won its only game within the division. Newton has thrown for five touchdowns and picked off just twice through the first three weeks of the season, but he's also run for 144 yards and two scores. Those are the top rushing totals for any quarterback in the league, and the Buccaneers are fresh off a matchup against a prototypical pocket passer in Houston's Ryan Mallett. This weekend, the task is to try to make Newton more like Mallett, and McCoy puts most of the onus on himself and his fellow linemen.
Throwback to the Bucs 16-10 win over the Panthers in 2012.
"We just have to really cover each other up," said McCoy. "I always say, 'Four as one.' The rush lanes are interchangeable. It's best for a defense if you can keep him in the pocket. When he is able to move with his feet and kind of get going down field, he'll kill you. That's really what makes him so good. We have to do a great job of filling the rush lanes and trying to get somebody up the middle in his face and then you have to set the edge because he, in my opinion, is the best escape artist we have in the league. If you don't get him bottled up he'll kill you."
Newton missed both games against the Buccaneers last year but Carolina still took a pair of victories behind backup quarterback Derek Anderson. In 2013, Newton ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns in two wins over the Buccaneers, but in 2012 he had 44 rushing yards and no scores in two Tampa Bay victories. As McCoy accurately recalls, Newton scored three rushing touchdowns in a single game at Raymond James Stadium in 2011; the Panthers won both of those games with their quarterback getting a total of 119 yards and four scores.
That's plenty of evidence that discouraging Newton's rushing tendencies is a critical part of the Bucs' formula for success on Sunday. And that has more to do with just the quarterback's rushing numbers; his movement can also lead to big plays in the passing game.
"One thing you can't give Cam Newton – not everybody is as talented as he is, but what makes him so good is when you give him a run/pass option," said McCoy. "I think they are in the top six or something like that in running the ball. Him in general, if he can get going with his feet and then you give him an option to throw as well, he'll kill you. We have to limit that as much as possible."
- The Buccaneers added running back Doug Martin to theinjury reporton Thursday but hope they won't have to put him on the inactive list on Sunday.
Martin sustained a knee/quad injury in practice on Wednesday – Lovie Smith seemed to describe it as the effects of a collision and not some sort of ligament tear – and was held out on Thursday. It could just be a single day of rest.
"Doug Martin hit his knee yesterday, so we kept him out today – should be okay," said Smith.
That unwelcome but hopefully not too serious bit of news was balanced by two positive developments on the injury report. Donovan Smith, who sustained a knee injury in Houston last Sunday, returned to work on a limited basis after not participating on Wednesday. Safety Chris Conte, who has started the last two games at strong safety in Major Wright's place, went from limited participation to full-go on Thursday. Wright himself is on the injury report after missing two games with an abdomen injury but has practiced both days in limited fashion.
Smith, the Buccaneers' second-round pick in last spring's NFL Draft, has started the first three games at left tackle and was part of a front line that held J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans' defense without a sack in Week Three. The Bucs hope his continued development will not be interrupted by injury this weekend.
"[I'm] very encouraged by his play," said Lovie Smith. "Two rookie linemen starting in the league, that's tough duty, especially at the left tackle position. He'll get better and better each week, but to get better you need to get the reps. That's why it was important for us to get him back out there today at practice. He looked pretty good."
The most notable entries on the Thursday update to Carolina's injury report is that linebacker Thomas Davis (chest) returned to full participation in practice but linebacker Luke Kuechly remained out. Kuechly is in the NFL's concussion protocol and hasn't played since the season opener; the Panthers website reports that Head Coach Ron Rivera is "planning to play without Kuechly" on Sunday.
- The Bucs made another move on their practice squad on Thursday, but it's one that wouldn't have been possible two years ago.
The latest switch to that ever-evolving 10-man crew was the arrival of running back Mike James and the departure of linebacker Orie Lemon. James, who was on the Buccaneers' active roster for the entirety of the past two seasons, was still eligible for the practice squad thanks to a new rule instituted last year. Teams can now use two of those 10 spots on players who have up to two years of accrued NFL service. Lemon had been signed under that same "practice squad exception." The Bucs were using their two exceptions on Lemon and cornerback Isaiah Frey, so James could only come aboard if the team let Lemon or Frey go.
And James was really coming back onboard after having been released from the active roster on Tuesday, after the team promoted tackle Reid Fragel from the practice squad. Since James had been a game-day inactive for each of the first three regular-season outings, his circumstances changed more than his weekly role. He immediately returned to taking practice reps on Thursday.
"He's one of our guys," said Smith. "The numbers sometimes dictate, you have to make some cuts of popular guys, and not just popular guys, guys that are kind of the core of what you are trying to do. Mike has been a part of that. When you get an opportunity to bring him back, you get him back as soon as possible. That was pretty quick for Mike, but his team called on him and he answered the bell again.
"Your role can change [at] any given moment and you have to accept it on what the team needs you to do at the time. That may be on the active 53. That may be on the active 46 or on the practice squad. When you are one of our guys, whatever the team asks you to do, that's what you'll do. We talk about who Mike James is – not like that surprised me. That is who he is and we need him in this role right now."