Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is the longest-tenured Buccaneer on the current roster. He was drafted out of the University of Oklahoma in 2010 and has known nothing but the team's training facility, One Buccaneer Place, and Raymond James Stadium as his homefield, for the entirety of his career.
After those eight years in the NFL, it's safe to say that McCoy has his fair share of 'experience' with this team, but now he is joined by other veterans on the defensive line, who not only have years of outside playing experience under their belts, but Super Bowl appearances to boot.
"You always want to welcome new guys whether they are a rookie like Vita [Vea] or Super Bowl champions in JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) and Vinny [Curry] and Beau [Allen] and Mitch [Unrein], so we have a lot of experience," McCoy said. "That is what we need. Me going into my ninth year, we need more experience in the room and I am excited about it."
Photos from the Buccaneers' OTA practice on May 22.
All four of the aforementioned veterans were acquired by the Bucs this past offseason. In fact, it was less than four short months ago that both Curry and Allen were hoisting the coveted Lombardi Trophy in Minnesota, after beating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII as members of the Philadelphia Eagles. The experience allows them, and others who have been in their shoes, to have a different perspective on what it takes to reach the pinnacle of the football world. It's a perspective that can be invaluable to a locker room.
"I look at it like now we have guys where we don't have to lay a foundation," McCoy said of his new linemates. "They have the foundation because of all the experience that they have, but [there is] so much work to be done."
That work will be led not only by the longest-tenured and most-familiar Buc in McCoy, with his new arsenal of experience, but also the new defensive line coach, Brentson Bucker, who brings a whole lot of experience of his own to the group. Buckner was hired by the Buccaneers this past offseason after spending five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals in the same capacity. He coached a defensive front that was part of a Cardinals defense that ranked top-three in the league during Buckner's last three seasons with the team. Additionally, he had his hand in developing pass-rush standouts like now-Jaguars' defensive tackle Calais Campbell, who recorded 14.5 sacks last season after playing under Buckner in Arizona the previous four years. Before becoming a coach, Buckner enjoyed a 12-year playing career with the Steelers, Bengals, 49ers and yes, the division-rival Panthers, that included Super Bowl appearances of his own.
"The thing I like about [Coach Buckner] is he played the game," McCoy said. "I think Coach Buck played in [two] Super Bowls. That's some experience there and that's playing at a high level. If you're going to the Super Bowl, you are going all the way and he did it [two] times. So, he knows what it takes to get there, especially at our position as a D-lineman.
"I just love his energy. He just keeps it as real as it gets."
It's something Coach Buckner has said multiple times, even in his short time here in Tampa: he has been in his players' shoes. He has laced up his cleats, taped his ankles and went to battle Sunday after Sunday, so he knows the grind and he knows what he's asking of his players. He's joined by assistant defensive line coach Paul Spicer, who has been with the team since 2015 and has his own 12-year NFL career and Super Bowl ring on his resume, as well. By no means does that mean either coach goes easier on their players. Quite the opposite seems to ring true.
"There was a day in Phase Two where [Coach Buckner] challenged me," McCoy said. "It was all positive. He was talking to me and talking to me and chattering at me in my ear just to push me because there is no vet. There is no Pro Bowl. Everybody is on the same plane and that's what I love about him. He doesn't care about who you are or what you've done. He has been brought here for a job and that is what he is going to do. I love that about him. He just keeps it real. He doesn't care how you feel. He is going to tell you how it is, he is going to coach you and it's onto the next. I love that about Buck."
The respect McCoy has for his new coach was evident. As was the respect he has for the rest of his new teammates that will be in the trenches with him this coming season. It's a supporting cast that McCoy is also grateful for. He's shouldered a lot of the defensive front load in his time with the Bucs, getting consistent pressure on the quarterback, double-team or not. In 2017, McCoy managed 24 quarterback hits in addition to leading the team in sacks, just as he's done every year since 2013. There's a balance between shouldering the load and leading the charge, though. The success of the defensive line isn't all on McCoy and it's Coach Buckner that has made sure McCoy himself understands that.
"He wants me to do my job to the best of my ability and hold everybody accountable to doing their job," McCoy said. "Don't try to do his job, don't try to do his job, don't try and do this and go outside the defense because you feel like you have to do more. Just be myself and play the game the way it's supposed to be played, bring energy every day and that's it. When you do that, everybody follows your lead and then you start stacking those good days."