(Editor's Note: The following question-and-answer session with rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy first appeared in a weekly game preview that is delivered each week to members of the One Buc Club, exclusively. The weekly preview also contains an in-depth look at that weekend's matchup, with injury updates, players who are on hot streaks and players who are due, statistical trends that could affect the game's outcome, five opponents to keep an eye on, and more. The One Buc Club is free and open to all fans; to learn more and to sign up, please *click here.)*
With the breathless, wall-to-wall coverage of pre-draft events, the gigantic heaps of hype, the instant fame and fortune and everything else that comes along with being a first-round pick in the NFL, it's sometimes a wonder the suffocating pressure doesn't result in more disappointing draftees.
Such is the world a high first-rounder must deal with, however, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has handled his new status remarkably well. And while McCoy has played very well since open day – starting every game of the season – he has only recently begun to truly take off, making the game-changing plays that were expected of him.
McCoy has three sacks in the Bucs' last two games and has been a constant presence in opposing backfields. His efforts in the Bucs' Week 11 shutout at San Francisco were instrumental in the team shutting down San Francisco running back Frank Gore.
With the Bucs at 7-4 and in the midst of a heated playoff chase, McCoy will certainly need to continue his rise if the Bucs are to succeed in their quest for a postseason berth. The fun-loving, always-smiling, and intensely motivated young star wouldn't have it any other way – he relishes just such a challenge.
Back in April, you were drafted third overall by a team that was coming off a 3-13 season. Obviously, you were expected to play a significant role right away in the team's turnaround. How did you feel about that situation? Would you have preferred a somewhat lower-profile entry into the NFL or do you like that sort of challenge?
"I love any type of challenge and I take it head-on. I accept any high expectations as a challenge, and that's what I had. You've just got to have fun with it and let it roll."
Did anything about the transition to the NFL surprise you? How did you feel out there on opening day starting at defensive tackle?
"Of course you're excited. You see your dreams coming true, starting to become a reality, so it was great on that day, actually seeing me living it. It was a lot of fun."
How has the game changed for you over the last 12 weeks? Are there things you understand about playing DT in the NFL now that you didn't know when the season began? How much more comfortable are you now?
"It's a physical game. You can't play timid or slow or be thinking, because offensive linemen don't think. They know what they have to do and they just do it. Offensive linemen recover real fast in this league and you have to be on top of your game at all times."
A lot of young players in your position would be learning from a group of older veterans, but the Bucs are a very young team overall. There really isn't a long-time fixture in your D-Line room. Does that make it more difficult to learn what it takes to succeed in the NFL? Who is the leader in that group?
"We kind of collectively do it together, there's not really just one standout in our group. We collectively learn and build together as a group, but it is rough for everybody being young with nobody who has been in the league a long time. Ryan Sims was, though. He helped me out a lot."
You guys have racked up 10 sacks in your last two games. What was it that kick-started the pass-rush? Should we expect to see more of the same down the stretch?
"I honestly think it was that the ends got going and made [Troy Smith] step up [in San Francisco], and when he stepped up, our D-tackles had the pocket closed down so he didn't have anywhere to go. We kept him uncomfortable. He had to move around and never got a really good read. It started with our ends getting off the ball and getting him to step up, and us being where we needed to be."
You have three sacks in the last two games. Are you feeling it now? How much fun is the game right now?
"It's a lot of fun. You work so hard and you wait for things to happen. When you finally start seeing them happen, it makes it that much better."
The Bucs have had at least 11 rookies play in each of their last five games, and obviously you're one of them. A few weeks ago, Tampa Bay was the first team to win a game with seven rookie starters since 2002. Is it ridiculous to think the team can keep going all the way to the playoffs with so many young players in key positions?
"It's not crazy at all. Us as a family, we believe in Coach Raheem Morris and Mr. [Mark] Dominik's vision and we believe in it. We're buying into it, we're coming together as a group and a family, and we're just giving it our all each week."
You're obviously a guy that likes to have fun, but an NFL season can be stressful. What do you do in our downtime to stay sane?
"I stay in my Bible. Got to. I'm constantly praying and I stay in my Bible. That's what keeps me level-headed and keeps me relaxed and calm. If I feel like something's going on, I find out how to cope with it by going to the Word, and that's what I do."
The Bucs are 7-4 and right in the middle of the playoff race, which is a surprise to many analysts. What's the ceiling for this team in 2010? Do you think this team is a year or two away from really contending, or could something big happen this year?
"We are not looking at the future. We're just looking at the next game each week. What happens from that is what happens, but each week we just focus on the next game, which is the biggest game on the schedule."