Gerald McCoy may still live up to billing

TAMPA, Fla. -- When the locker room door opened Wednesday afternoon, a large cluster of media members headed straight for Gerald McCoy's locker.

They were there to talk about the defensive tackle’s dominant performance in Tampa Bay's victory against Carolina. McCoy held court for nearly 12 minutes and forced several outbursts of laughter.

This is how it’s always supposed to have been with McCoy. As the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, he was supposed to be an instant star, sort of like the guy taken just ahead of him -- Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh.

The problem is, it’s rarely been like this. McCoy always has been gregarious, but there hasn't been a lot of reason to hear from him.

McCoy started slowly as a rookie and injured his arm just when it looked like he was starting to emerge. He started off well last season, but suffered a similar injury and missed more than half the season.

That’s led to talk in the media and fans about McCoy being a bust. McCoy said he doesn’t listen to the critics, but he gets the point.

“There are different pressure levels,’’ McCoy said. “Mine just so happened to be a top-pick pressure. But if you don’t want to play in a professional environment, if you don’t want pressure, then you shouldn’t play in a professional environment, seriously.’’

Bring on the pressure, McCoy said. He welcomes it and perhaps it will fuel him into pressuring quarterbacks.

“My dad always told me to be smart with my choices and never to take on a challenge I don’t think I can handle,’’ McCoy said.

McCoy refuses to point to the injuries as excuses. Heck, he’s just as disappointed with how his first two seasons have gone as any of his critics. McCoy had only four sacks in his first two seasons and that's not good enough.

“Performance is everything,’’ McCoy said. “Nothing else matters because nobody’s going to say, “Oh, he was a great guy’’. They’re going to say, “Oh, he didn’t perform." I’ve been smiling since I’ve got here, but people also say I haven’t been performing since I got here. Nobody cares that I’m smiling. Nobody cares that I’m a great guy. They care if I’m not performing.’’

And that’s why the cluster surrounded McCoy’s locker. On Sunday at least, he performed. He sacked Carolina’s Cam Newton once and had two other plays where he was very close to a sack. McCoy also was extremely instrumental in holding Carolina’s running game to 10 yards.

Maybe, just maybe, this was the real McCoy. Maybe he’ll stay healthy and dominate for the next six or eight years.

“Gerald’s always had intensity,’’ said Kelli Masters, his agent. “But I saw him take it to another level this offseason. More so than ever, he was all about football. Maybe some of it was frustration about the injuries, but I think it was more the maturation process than anything.’’

Before the team’s offseason program started, McCoy was out in San Diego working with his personal trainer to get his arm healthy. He came to Tampa for the offseason program. Minicamp ended in June and players around the league took their vacations.

McCoy didn’t. Although he was healthy, he went straight back to San Diego for more conditioning work and stayed right up until the start of training camp.

“It’s a big season for us and I needed to be in the best shape I could to help my team,’’ McCoy said.

There’s no question McCoy helped his team against Carolina. But you look at the injury history and it’s only logical to wonder if he can continue like that for another 15 games.

Injuries can be tied to luck and maybe it’s time to put aside the doubt and consider the possibility that McCoy’s luck can change.

Maybe, after seeing Sunday's performance, it’s time to consider the possibility McCoy is right where he should be -- a third-year defensive tackle, just hitting his full stride.

“It’s kind of like it was in college,’’ McCoy said. “After a while, you just know what’s coming. You just kind of go with the flow. You just play the game and everything slows down because you learn how to study film, you learn what to look for and what to watch. Now that I know everything that goes with it, it’s time to put it together and just use it.’’

If he plays like he did on Sunday for an entire season, McCoy will be exactly what he was supposed to be.