For the past two weeks, Gerald McCoy has been working out with his new rookie teammate, Adrian Clayborn, presumably giving the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end a head start on what he'll be learning in training camp the next three weeks.
Chances are, however, it wasn't all Xs-and-Os and sweaty repetitions. McCoy likes to keep things loose, so he's probably a pretty entertaining mentor to have around. On Thursday, for instance, he decided against waiting quietly for his turn in front of the media and instead commandeered a camera and a microphone and waded into the crowd of reporters around Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn.
McCoy knows how to separate the fun times from the serious work, of course. You can't joke your way through conditioning workouts, for example, and McCoy was clearly dedicated in that regard during the 2011 offseason. On Wednesday, he weighed in at 296 pounds and had a body fat index of 16.1% during his check-in physical at One Buccaneer Place. At the end of the 2010 season, even though he was playing his best football later in the year, McCoy weighed 310 and had 22% body fat.
And McCoy is much more than a cut-up to his teammates. At Oklahoma, where he was a star defensive tackle before the Buccaneers' drafted him third overall in 2010, he was a team captain and a bona fide on-field leader.
But if McCoy did try to keep things loose during his workouts with Clayborn, there was a real lesson in there, too. If the second-year veteran could impress anything upon the two new high-profile linemen who are coming in behind him – Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, the Bucs' first two picks in 2011 – it would be the importance of enjoying themselves this season.
"Eliminate stress," he preached. "Eliminate stress, man. Half my rookie season was just stress. Seriously. I'm not just talking about the first half. If you take my rookie season as a whole, 50% of hit was stress, then it was 10% this and 10% that, and so on. A whole 50 was just stress. Eliminate stress and just have fun playing the game, because we don't have it for long. Just have fun playing your rookie season."
McCoy knows exactly what position Clayborn and Bowers are in, and its mentally taxing aspects. The Buccaneers had a huge hole at defensive tackle when they used their first two picks on McCoy and UCLA's Brian Price in the spring of 2010, and both rookies were expected to step in immediately and make a significant difference. (McCoy started all year; Price suffered an early injury and saw action in only five games.) This offseason, edge rushers were the Bucs most obvious need, and their first two picks were used on players who were dominant in that regard in college. Both Clayborn and Bowers will get an opportunity to compete for starting jobs right away, just like McCoy.
The Bucs were pleased with McCoy's first season, and the rookie was clearly making significant strides during the second half of the season. But it's fair to say that there were some stressful times for McCoy, partly due to some early-season position shuffling and partly due to actual sacks eluding him even when he played well in the first few months.
That's all in the past now, however, and McCoy feels as comfortable as he hopes his young teammates will this year.
"There was a lot of confusion at the beginning of the year with my assignments and what I needed to do," he said. "I got moved around a lot, but once I just relaxed and just played ball and came into my own, I started to come along. Then I got injured, but that's this game. People get injured. But this year, even just being in the building, I'm feeling more relaxed. I feel like I'm at home, as opposed to last year when it was a new environment for me. I knew this was my team, but now I feel like it's my family. I can just walk around and say, 'What's up,' to anybody. It's like I've been here 10 years. It's cool, man. I'm ready to go."
The Buccaneers have resisted comparing McCoy to former Tampa Bay great Warren Sapp, even though they would obviously like to have a player make as big of an impact out of the critical under tackle position as Sapp did. McCoy is his own sort of player. Still, there is an obvious comparison to be made between his current situation and Sapp's first two seasons in the league.
The 12th overall pick in the 1995 draft, Sapp was a starter for a good portion of his rookie season but contributed "only" 3.0 sacks, same as McCoy last year. In 1996, the Buccaneers changed coaching staffs and began the long and successful era of Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator. Sapp found a comfort zone in Kiffin's schemes, put up 9.0 sacks in his second year and then went on to multiple double-digit seasons.
The Bucs are still under the direction of Head Coach and de facto Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris this year, but McCoy does have two new position coaches in Keith Millard and Grady Stretz. More importantly, he has fresh state of mind and a boatload of confidence.
"I kind of worked out a little bit this offseason, got in better shape," he said in a sly understatement. "I'm better prepared. I grew up mentally, as compared to my rookie year."
Amazingly, in just his second year, he's in a position to expand that aforementioned mentor role, too. That's what happens when you play on the youngest team in the league, with a 23-year-old quarterback as the unquestioned leader and just-emerging impact players all over the depth chart. Clayborn and Bowers might need that more than the typical rookies, too, since they've yet to have a single practice with their new team due to the labor negotiations. McCoy is confident his new linemates will fit in quickly.
"They don't have a lot of time, but the thing is, our coaches wouldn't have drafted them unless they felt like they drafted some guys who could pick it up fast," he said. "They knew what situation we were in when we drafted them and they knew they would have limited time to get them ready. They drafted those guys knowing that, so I have 100% confidence they'll pick it up just in enough time to get it rolling.
"There are a lot more players who have things to prove, such as myself. There are a lot of expectations on a lot of other players. They just so happened to be so good in college [and] fans just want to see production. That's it; that's all people want to see. I'm sure they're going to give everything they have to produce."