Gerald McCoy isn't yet sure if he'll play in the 2018 Pro Bowl – he won't worry about that until after the regular season is over – but he's absolutely certain that teammate Lavonte David should be playing in it.
McCoy isn't the first person, teammate or not, to take notice of a Pro Bowl voting pattern that has made it hard for David to get his due. As an outside linebacker, David annually has to battle pass-rushing 3-4 edge rushers like Arizona's Chandler Jones for votes, and the players with the high sack totals tend to get the nod. Despite being recognized as one of the NFL's best 4-3 outside linebackers – and even earning first-team Associated Press All-Pro honors in one non-Pro Bowl year! – David has only been selected to one all-star game.
Pictures from the Buccaneers' practice on Wednesday.
"54 – it's happened to him again," said McCoy of his fellow defensive captain. "He is the best in the league. Lavonte David is the best at what he does in the league. It's just my personal opinion. I think it goes unrecognized a lot. It's the system. I think the system needs to change. This is to take no credit away from the guys who made it – you have two different styles of defenses, 3-4 and 4-3. We play a 4-3 and he is an outside linebacker. He just gets put in the same category as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, which does a lot of pass rushing."
This year, David is an alternate for the NFC squad, with the conference's three OLB spots going to Jones, Washington's Ryan Kerrigan and Minnesota's Anthony Barr. Jones and Kerrigan are both edge rushers with 24 sacks between them. Barr plays a position analogous to David's but is on a first-place with an 11-3 record. David's raw numbers are arguably better than Barr's, particularly given that David has missed three games due to injury, but if there were more Pro Bowl spots for 4-3 outside linebackers, both players could have been selected.
McCoy even has a plan for addressing that inequity.
"You can take those [3-4] guys who have definitely earned it and add a 4-3 outside linebacker section," said McCoy. "If you're worried about numbers, just make it, like, two people – two in the AFC and two in the NFC. I think that kind of evens it out. It gets guys like Lavonte [in]. There has been a lot of guys that [have] played 4-3 outside linebacker that have been deserving, but I've been with this guy since he got in the league and he is definitely the best at what he does."
In addition to a team-leading 84 tackles, David has also forced five fumbles and recovered five fumbles. That's an extremely rare combination, reminiscent of his 2013 All-Pro campaign in which he had 7.0 sacks and five interceptions. David made the Pro Bowl following the 2015 season, but has had strong arguments to be selected in at least four of his six NFL seasons, including 2017.
"I think that he has had an outstanding year," said Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith. "With the Pro Bowl, there is always going to be someone that is going to be left out, but in my mind he has had a Pro Bowl year. He has, without a doubt, had a year for us in terms of his productivity, in terms of attacking the ball and I think no one has ever in league history done what he has done in terms of taking the ball away and recovering it. Unfortunately, in this time of year there is going to be guys that are well-deserving and there is probably not anyone in my mind that is more deserving to be [in] the Pro Bowl than Lavonte David."
- Wide receiver Mike Evans needs 161 receiving yards over the final two weeks of the season to reach 1,000 and join A.J. Green and Randy Moss as the only players in NFL history to start their careers with four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving campaigns.
Evans admits that reaching that mark is a goal, but he also thinks it should be a given for him.
"It would be a cool accomplishment," he said. "It's something that I'm supposed to do; I get a lot of targets. I'm the number-one receiver on the team – I should do that. Hopefully I get it."
Evans had a team-high five catches for 79 yards in the Bucs' Monday night loss to the Falcons, and that's almost exactly the yardage average he needs over the next two games to make it to 1,000. He's had 78 or more receiving yards in six games this season, and 27 times over four campaigns, but he has also had 33 or fewer yards in three games this year. There's little doubt that his overall numbers are lower than what he and the team expected this year, and Head Coach Dirk Koetter pointed that out to Jameis Winston before the Atlanta game.
"We haven't targeted him as much this year and I've had that exact conversation with Jameis," said Koetter. "I told him, 'Hey, wasn't life a lot simpler when we just went back and tried to throw it to Mike?' There is just some truth in that because Mike's strength is his size and his power. To Mike's credit, I thought Mike did as good a job as he's done all season of just running fast [against Atlanta]. For a big guy, Mike can run. Teams try to beat him up at the line of scrimmage, so he doesn't get in open space and you don't really notice that speed, but he got behind the defense multiple times last night. Now, a couple of those were penalties, but I thought Mike really did a good job of running hard and using that speed and Jameis did a good job of giving him chances."
Evans might already be knocking on 1,000 yards if receptions of 32 and 55 yards in the Atlanta game weren't called back on offensive pass-interference penalties. He said the contact he absorbed while making his first catch of the game led him to believe the officials were going to call the game looser, which would have been fine with him. Regardless of the style of game dictated by the flags, Evans knows that he can do damage if he can manufacture space off the line. And if that leads to a higher number of targets – if Winston makes a point of going back to his top weapon – he won't complain about that, either.
"I was just playing, running, trying to take the top off the defense, things like that," he said. "When I get free access, it's good. I'm a bigger guy so I get held a little bit more, but it is what it is. I like that, I like when the refs let us play.
"If [Winston] wants to throw me the ball, I'll take that, but I'm a team guy. Whatever is helping the team win. Obviously, I want the ball. I think I'm one of the best in the game. I want the ball whenever I can get it, so I try my best to get open."
- The Buccaneers opened Week 16 with a shorterinjury list* han the previous week, but that has a lot to do with five players going on injured reserve earlier on Wednesday. The two biggest question marks of last week remain the same.*
Those would be the aforementioned captains, David and McCoy. The difference this time around is that both defenders took part in Wednesday's practice, albeit in a limited fashion. Last week, neither David nor McCoy participate in any of the three workouts for the Atlanta game and they were ruled out on Saturday.
However, there were two players who remain on the active roster after Monday night's three hours of triage and who were unable to practice on Wednesday: defensive end Robert Ayers and wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Ayers has a shoulder injury while Jackson is dealing with an ankle ailment, both suffered against the Falcons.
Tight end Cameron Brate (hip/knee) and cornerback Ryan Smith (ankle) were also hurt on Monday night and were limited to start Week 16. Even those players who practiced fully didn't have too strenuous of an afternoon, as the Buccaneers left their helmets and pads in the locker room and ran practice at a walk-through speed. Tampa Bay has one more allotted practice in pads to use this season if it chooses to do so, but Wednesday on a short week was not the right time for it, in Koetter's estimation.
"In a normal week, this would be like a Tuesday for the players," said Koetter. "We are a day ahead, so we definitely cut it down. We got our same number of reps, but we had to really slow the tempo down today, mainly just from a recovery standpoint. We will get back into a more normal tempo tomorrow."