Someday soon, Gerald McCoy will record his first NFL sack, his first tackle for loss, his first forced fumble. He'll have his first starring role in an NFL Network highlight package of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game. He'll get his first game ball in the locker room.
McCoy has none of those things yet, but he does have this under his belt now: His first game played on the professional level. And by all accounts, it was a very good opening statement.
McCoy and the Buccaneers opened the 2010 preseason with a 10-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night in Miami Gardens, but the Tampa Bay defense was strong in the first half, at some points dominant. And, just as the Buccaneers had imagined when they made him the third overall pick in the draft this past April, McCoy was right in the middle of the action.
McCoy opened the game at defensive tackle and played a good part of the first quarter. When Miami got the ball back two times in the last three minutes, trying to scratch away at the Buccaneers' 7-0 lead, McCoy rejoined the D-Line to get some experience in that situation. The Dolphins paid him a lot of attention when he was on the field.
"I was able to get him out there with the first unit and then my wish came true that we had a two-minute to get him out there in that [situation]," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "Unfortunately he got the double-team every time. We will get a chance to evaluate him. Michael Bennett was able to get out there and get a sack and capitalize because of it. That is part of it also."
Indeed, that sort of reaction to McCoy's presence - devoting more blockers to him and thereby weakening the protection at some other spot along the line - is one of the ways the Buccaneers envision their new building block making a big difference. Not only did second-year man Bennett get free for the Bucs' only sack of the game but second-year lineman Kyle Moore was able to roam free much of the first half, amassing two tackles and a pass defensed. Moreover, the overall results for the defense and the defensive front in particular were outstanding.
The Buccaneers started the game with their expected opening-day front four: McCoy and Roy Miller on the inside, Moore and Stylez G. White on the edges. They worked some potential key reserves into that mix in the first half: Bennett, Tim Crowder, Dre Moore. And for the quarter-and-a-half that the Dolphins kept the majority of their starting offense in the game, including starting quarterback Chad Henne, Tampa Bay's defense allowed a total of 39 yards and no points. Desperate to fix a run defense that struggled in 2009, the Bucs had to be thrilled with Miami's first-half rushing total: 30 yards on nine carries, with no run longer than eight yards.
"Our main emphasis was to stop the run, to go out there on the first three series that we did play out there and to stop the run," said Moore. "It feels good, it gives us a lot of confidence going into the next preseason game and further on into the season. Right now this was the first game when we come out next weekend we have to stop the run again. All we doing is building our confidence, it was a great game to start off with."
The elevated pass rush will follow, the Bucs know, if the opponent's running game isn't working and more of the onus falls on the quarterback. The more difficult the situation gets for the opposing offense, the less it will be able to double-team McCoy. He'll get his chance to roam the backfield soon. Still, he was more than happy to play his role on Saturday night, even when the first quarter was played largely on a muddy Florida Marlins infield at rain-soaked Sun Life Stadium.
"It was a lot of fun," said McCoy. "It was a little bit of a rough debut because it was rainy and slippery. My feet got stuck in the ground and couldn't really get a good stance, but it was a lot of fun. It actually went by faster than I thought. It wasn't as scary as I thought it was going to be. I always thought at first it would be scary, but it wasn't as bad as I thought."
The preseason opener left Moore optimistic about where the Bucs' rebuilt defensive line is headed in 2010. He and fellow second-year man Roy Miller are settling into their new starting roles and the key addition of McCoy has hopefully transformed the entire unit into a force to be reckoned with.
"We've been together since OTAs, I mean the whole D line pretty much has been there since the beginning," said Moore. "That helped us a lot to jell together and we also hang out a lot off the field too. So we're going out there kind of feeling out each other, knowing where me messed up. [If] I didn't hit that gap or something like that we automatically know because we're that close."