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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Superhero qualities big part of what makes Gerald McCoy great

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) runs onto the field before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

TAMPA — The ice cream truck, which came in through the breezeway between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ locker room and weight room, rolled up to the back edge of the practice fields at One Buc Place last Thursday just ahead of the three long toots of the air horn that signaled the end of three-day mini-camp.

Which was precisely how Gerald McCoy had planned it.

There’s a lot of little kid in McCoy. Along with his affinity for ice cream, which he shares with teammates each year by picking up the tab for the treat of their choice as they close out mini-camp, he’s a big fan of superheroes. Especially Batman, who McCoy has dressed up as on occasion.

Not that McCoy needs to don Batman’s cowl or Superman’s cape to look like a superhero. The five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle has a few superhero qualities of his own, including the Flash-like quickness he uses to befuddle the foes across the line of scrimmage each Sunday.

Of all the elements in his game that make McCoy special, that make him one of the most difficult players to defeat one-on-one, this is the one stands out above the rest, and it’s evident here in this highlight from the Bucs’ defensive dismantling of the Seahawks last season.

On a third-and-6 play from the Seattle 24-yard line in a 14-5 victory over the Seahawks in late November, McCoy comes off the ball so quickly that Seahawks right guard Germain Ifedi can barely get out of his stance before McCoy is in the backfield.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy prepares for first half of an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

The play resulted in one of the seven sacks McCoy recorded a year ago, a modest number even for a player judged by many to be the best three technique in the game today. But defensive tackles never have been gauged by stats.

“That’s why I say ‘Liars figure and figures lie,’ ’’ Panthers coach Ron Rivera once said when speaking of McCoy. “It’s not about the stats you put up, it’s about the impact you make on plays. It’s about how you impact the game and that’s what Gerald does, he impacts the game.’’

His impact is generated largely by that quickness, but since he came to the Bucs as their first-round pick (No. 3 overall) in the 2010 draft, the Hulk-like power McCoy generates from his strong lower body has played as big a role in his rise as one of the game’s most disruptive players as his quickness has.

Take a look at these two sacks, recorded on back-to-back plays against the Falcons, in a game from 2013. In both cases, McCoy gets a good jump on the guard but he fails to create a clean path to the quarterback and has to power his way through the line to get the sack against Matt Ryan.

“We have a name in this league for players who can do that kind of thing consistently,’’ former Falcons head coach and current Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. “We call them game-wreckers, and that’s what Gerald is. He’s very disruptive and it doesn’t matter if it’s a pass play or a run play.

“He just creates so many issues for you, whether it’s forcing a back to start and stop and redirect or affecting the quarterback. And what that does is it slows everything down for the second-level players, the linebackers and the safeties who come down into the box and finish off the plays.’’

McCoy finishes off plenty of plays all by himself. Since 2013, his 33.5 sacks are the most by any defensive tackle in the game, according to the Buccaneers, and since 2012, his 50 tackles for a loss are the fifth-most among defensive tackles.

Only Ndamukong Suh (75), Calais Campbell (71), Geno Atkins (60) and Aaron Donald (57) have scored more over that span than McCoy, who in the last couple of years has begun to position himself in such a way that allows him to take even greater advantage of his burst and power.

The best example can be seen late in this NFL Network video honoring McCoy as the 52nd-ranked player in the network’s countdown of the league’s Top 100 players. McCoy is seen taking a wider angle than usual in what turns out to be a sack of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“Typically, he lines up (closer to the center),’’ Raiders guard Kelechi Osemele said of McCoy. “That’s something I noticed he’s kind of changed in his game this last year. That’s how he’s getting a lot of his sacks now. It’s really working. Guys really don’t know how to react to it.’’

Coaches don’t really seem to know how to react either. Not that they ever have. They’ve tried double- and triple-teaming McCoy and they’ve thrown chip blockers at him. None of their tactics seem to work consistently, in part because McCoy is often as dogged in his pursuit of a target as he is quick off the ball.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) celebrates after sacking Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson during the second half of an NFL football game in Tampa, Fla., Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. The Buccaneers won 14-5. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

A year ago, for example, during the Bucs’ season finale against the Panthers at Raymond James Stadium, McCoy cut immediately through the line on what was supposed to be a toss sweep to the left to Jonathan Stewart, who had to stop dead in his tracks and reverse course to avoid being tackled by McCoy.

Stewart got away, but as the running lanes in front of him clogged up, he was eventually caught from behind and tackled just out of bounds for a 2-yard loss by McCoy, who had covered three-fourths of the width of the field to get back into position to make the play.

McCoy was too tired after that play to celebrate it, which is atypical. He usually celebrates a sack or a big tackle with a dance of some kind. After a recent sack of Wilson, for example, he acted on a friend’s dare and “flew like Batman’’ into the end zone in celebration.

“A sack or any big play like that, that’s a big moment in your life,’’ McCoy said later. “So, you got to celebrate it. I mean, why not? You got to have fun with it. That’s what this game’s all about. It’s about having fun.”

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