Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy announced Wednesday that at the request of quarterback Jameis Winston, he would be stepping aside and taking on a "different" leadership role with the team. While this was the first time McCoy acknowledged publicly that he was "passing the torch," the transition really began last season.
Some would say this change happened sooner than expected, but this was really the perfect time to do it. Here's why it makes sense now:
This gets it out of the way
You knew this was coming. The Bucs have never had a quarterback of Winston's caliber or his star power, and it would only make sense that he takes the reins. It was particularly wise to approach McCoy in the offseason and give things a chance to settle, just in case McCoy didn't take the news well, versus doing it the week of a game.
And it was also smart for McCoy to get out in front of this, publicly acknowledging the change in leadership at the beginning of camp. He indicated it would be noticeable to fans. This way, he avoids a barrage of media questioning and rumors of a rift, like last season.
They're a team led by offense
Over the past 20 years, since Tony Dungy introduced the Tampa-2, Buccaneers teams have been known for defense. But this team is led by offense, and the numbers reflect it: The Bucs posted the fifth-most offensive yards in the league last season, while the defense finished 10th in yards allowed per game with 340.4. Granted, the 10th spot behind the New England Patriots isn't bad at all, but the third-highest third-down completion percentage from opposing quarterbacks (46 percent) certainly is.
The team also has an offensive-minded head coach in Dirk Koetter, and that group has more continuity in Year 2 versus the defense in Year 1 under Mike Smith. The team's leader should reflect that.
He helps them tune out the noise
The Bucs are tied with the Browns for the second-worst record since 2011, finishing 23-57 in that span. Overcoming that will require enduring some harsh criticism and not much respect around the league. Winston is no stranger to hecklers or scathing media commentary. He has shown a tremendous ability to block it out, and he's helped teammates do it too.
In Week 12 last season against the Indianapolis Colts, wide receiver Evan Spencer heard an opposing fan heckling Winston. Spencer became visibly upset and immediately came to Winston's defense. Winston took his helmet off, grabbed Spencer on the sideline and pointed to the fan saying, "Lions do not accept opinions of f---ing sheep, OK?! He's a sheep."
He understands people
In Week 9 against the New York Giants, backup defensive tackle Akeem Spence had a crucial unnecessary roughness penalty with less than five minutes remaining. Then-head coach Lovie Smith was so livid, he grabbed him by the jersey and told him to get off the field. Winston immediately went over to Spence and consoled him, telling him, "Keep your head up."
A true leader can discern when a teammate needs an earful and when he needs encouragement.
He's got the support of his teammates
Winston won over the locker room very quickly.
"[He] is my favorite teammate that I’ve ever approached the game with," said second-year wide receiver Kenny Bell during OTAs. "The attitude he brings every day, his approach to the game, his dedication to greatness ... the guy just impresses. I mean, there’s no question about it and that’s what’s gravitated me toward him. I love playing with the guy."
One of the big ways Winston endeared himself to teammates was through his humility. He might walk and talk with a lot of confidence, but he's always been quick to deflect praise and diminish his own contributions. That goes a long way for a young quarterback, a position requiring a fairly large ego.