Gerald McCoy has never been shy about self-examination. Just a year ago he vowed to become a more vocal and forceful leader for his Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now, with the Buccaneers coming off a 9-7 season and looking poised to leap into prime playoff contention, McCoy has engaged himself in another round of soul-searching, this one prompted by conversations he had at the Pro Bowl in February.
"I had an opportunity to talk to three very credible people this offseason," said McCoy, who has been selected for the NFL's all-star game five years in a row. "This was at the Pro Bowl, all at different times, and they all told me the exact same thing about myself. Not about the team – it wasn't even about my play – it was just about me as a man, as a leader, and what I need to do moving forward. And it hit home, to the point where I re-evaluated myself, my whole career up to this point. It wasn't devastating, but it was a reality check. I wouldn't have listened to them if they were not very credible sources and very successful in the things they've done.
Photos from the Bucs 2017 Offseason Workouts.
"The gist of what it is, is I haven't done enough to lead this team. Simple as that."
McCoy has always turned to the Buccaneers' last great defensive tackle, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Warren Sapp, for guidance on how to play the game to the best of his ability. It has never been lost on him that the franchise's most successful era was propelled by a legendary defense with an unstoppable force at the heart of it. McCoy's confidantes at the Pro Bowl used the same example.
"Of course they brought up '99' [Sapp] to me numerous times," said McCoy. "Any dominant defense has a dominant guy in the middle and basically I haven't been enough for my team. It's something I need to address moving forward. My approach to everything is going to be different – media, workouts, practice, meeting room, games. Something has to change."
McCoy deemed those Pro Bowl conversations to be private, and thus declined to share who they were with or the real specifics of the advice he received. In addition, some of it appears to be more along the lines of establishing what it is he needs to accomplish, and now McCoy is simply trying to figure out how to do so. As he has demonstrated each and every offseason he's been in the league, he's more than willing to put in whatever work is necessary to achieve his goals.
However, McCoy did get specific about one thing: He believes he needs to be more of a dominant figure in the Bucs' defense in crunch time. That is, he wants to own the fourth quarter.
"They said, go back and look at all my fourth quarters over the last two years," said McCoy, referring once again to those seminal conversations at the Pro Bowl in Orlando. "The great ones make the plays in the fourth quarter. The great ones make those big shots. The great ones make the plays when it's necessary. If I want to be considered one of those guys when my career is over, that's what has to be done."
As is often the case with players who are their own worst critics, McCoy is probably not giving himself enough credit in this regard. His quarterly splits certainly show no fourth-quarter drop in his sack totals, for instance.
Gerald McCoy Career Sacks by Quarter1st quarter: 13.02nd quarter: 13.03rd quarter: 4.54th quarter: 12.0Overtime: 0.0
McCoy also has eight of his 23 career run "stuffs," two of his four fumble recoveries and six of his 20 passes defensed in the fourth quarter.
Just last year, when the Buccaneers started the season with a rousing victory in Atlanta over the eventual NFC-champion Falcons, it was McCoy who knocked away Matt Ryan's last pass to preserve a 31-24 lead. On Atlanta's previous drive, McCoy had batted down another pass and trapped running back Devonta Freeman in the backfield for a three-yard loss, two plays made in Buccaneer territory that helped hold the home team to a field goal. Apparently, McCoy wants to make sure this type of end-game production becomes the norm for him, and he's studying his own game tape for clues as to how to make that happen.
Top photos from Gerald McCoy's 2016 campaign.
"I haven't been watching games on film; I've been watching all my fourth quarters," he stressed. "Where's my energy level in the fourth quarter? Is my technique dropping in the fourth quarter? Am I making the plays I need to make in the fourth quarter? Then I've been going to specific games to watch, to watch games that, if we win, if I make certain plays, we may be in the playoffs. You never know.
"I've never been one to shy away from carrying the load. I've been like this since I was a kid. It doesn't faze me. This is what I'm here for. This is what I truly believe God has made me to be, is to be the guy who carries the load. I just have to figure out how to do it. All the great ones do."
It's no secret, of course, that opposing teams key on McCoy in their game plan, and that's certainly going to be the case when the game is on the line. He says that shouldn't stop him from dominating in those moments. He's already honed his offseason and midweek preparations through seven years in the league, and so now it's his mind that will take him to the next level.
"You've just got to make some adjustments in your training and your diet, and moving forward it's all mental," said McCoy. "You never want to pace yourself, but you've got to learn how to push your body to the limit when it's time to. I'm going to get the double[-team]s; it is what it is. I've got to do what I've got to do. I've just got to make plays. It doesn't matter. When the game is on the line, a sack kills a two-minute drive. It just does. Double-teams and all of that sort…you've just got to find a way."