Carolina Panthers

Joining ‘true contender’ Panthers feels right for Gerald McCoy after first practices

The crown jewel of the Carolina Panthers’ free agency class this offseason, Gerald McCoy has a few things to get used to as he adjusts to his second team of his 10-year NFL career.

McCoy says he’s always ready to play, even if this week marks his first on-field action since January. But, there’s some rust to shake off. The three-time All-Pro defensive tackle said there was at least one time during the the first day of minicamp Tuesday where he eagerly ran onto the field, only to hear an unfamiliar call at the line of scrimmage — so there are also some schemes to learn.

There’s also the weather, which in Charlotte is a bit more pleasant than his former home, Tampa Bay.

Every adjustment isn’t a tough one.

“This weather is wonderful, it don’t feel like it’s 110 degrees and humid,” McCoy said after Tuesday’s practice. “In Tampa, you can see your soul walking on the field while you’re still practicing. Here, it’s not as humid.”

But McCoy didn’t sign with Carolina for the weather — and he may feel differently about it at training camp in Spartanburg next month. He signed a one-year deal last week as the final piece of what he believes is a championship-contending roster.

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Panthers felt like ‘home’ to McCoy

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers released McCoy, their former top draft pick, last month, and he immediately visited the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens before taking his decisive trip to Carolina.

McCoy surprised some football pundits by choosing the Panthers over the Browns, whose offseason additions have garnered Super Bowl hype, and the Ravens, the only one of McCoy’s three preferred teams to make the playoffs in 2018.

Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on Tuesday, June 11, 2019. Jeff Siner

“It wasn’t anything that I didn’t get (from Cleveland or Baltimore), but my dad told me, ‘G, when you make a decision, a sense of peace needs to come over you immediately,’” McCoy said during his introductory press conference on June 4. “It was a feel thing — what I felt in my heart and in my gut when I was in the building.

“I just felt it, before I left (Charlotte), I texted my wife like, ‘This is going to be tough because this place is great.’ She knew right away.”

McCoy, a free agent for the first time, compared the process to college recruiting. Recruiters who prove their interest generally get their man; the Panthers, in McCoy’s mind, showed they wanted him more.

That started with lunch during his visit, where players who weren’t vegan still made their way to eat his preferred food choice (McCoy went vegan in January).

For players like Trai Turner and Kyle Love to step out of their comfort zone for a guy who wasn’t their teammate sent a message: the Panthers’ interest in McCoy went beyond the front office.

“You want to go somewhere where you’re wanted and they actually want you in the building,” McCoy said last week. “The fact that the players were extremely welcoming to me — one thing I heard was guys were pushing (general manager Marty Hurney), ‘Hey, go get this guy.’

“That’s what you want to hear. You know when you get there guys want you on the team.”

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But Tampa Bay’s 92 losses in 144 games since McCoy entered the league in 2010 influenced his decision, as well.

He sought a resilient team with players who know how to win. A proven head coach and a former MVP under center didn’t hurt, either.

He wanted a contender — he got one.

“Every ounce of me feels like this team is a true contender,” McCoy said last week. “The NFC South champs are the New Orleans Saints and they’re known to have a great offense. In order to take them out, you’ve got to have a great defense. The Carolina Panthers have been known to have a great defense and I just want to add to that.

“I truly believe, with the addition of me and all the pieces that are here, we’ve got a great shot.”

Rivera: Defensive line energized

McCoy made his presence known even in limited action Tuesday. Head coach Ron Rivera, who was instrumental in the Panthers’ pitch to McCoy, was impressed by even a rusty version of his team’s former division rival.

To paraphrase the late NFL coach Dennis Green, McCoy is who they thought he is.

“Oh, he’s the player that we’ve played against the past several years,” Rivera said. “Very pleased with what we got, I think it brought a little bit of energy to the defensive line and to the defense as a whole. I think good players make everybody else better, so I’m excited about having him with our group.”

McCoy gets this week to acclimate on the field before a monthlong break until Carolina opens training camp at Wofford University in July, when his process will pick back up.

While McCoy will grow more comfortable with the Panthers’ scheme, he may be in for a rude awakening when he feels for himself the difference between a spring practice in Charlotte and a summer camp in Spartanburg.

He’ll learn, Rivera said with a wry smile.

Marcel Louis-Jacques covers the Carolina Panthers for the Charlotte Observer, keeping you on top of Panthers news both on the field and behind the scenes. He is a 2014 graduate of Arizona State University and grew up in Sacramento, California.