Warning: Big hits ahead.
Carolina Panthers guard Trai Turner is preparing for a matchup against standout Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy this Sunday.
Turner, one of the top guards in the NFL at just 24 years old, knows he has to be ready for a physical, high-motor showdown against McCoy, who will likely be opposite him through much of the game.
“Great guy to go against,” Turner said this week. “Great competitor, great player.
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“You’ve got to have a plan.”
McCoy, a five-time Pro Bowl phenom of a defensive tackle who can align at both a one and three technique on either side of the opposing center, has made his name known by disrupting offensive linemen – specifically, off of hassling guards.
The 29-year-old has 44.5 sacks since starting his career in Tampa Bay in 2010, alongside 181 tackles, six forced fumbles and 20 passes defensed. This season, McCoy has just two sacks – the most of any Buccaneer this season, as the team has a league-low seven total.
After last week’s narrow loss to Buffalo, he made clear his frustration with Tampa’s scheme in terms of limiting him in the pass rush, according to the Tampa Bay Times. After the game, the paper illustrated that the Buccaneers ran a 3-3-5 and rushed three down linemen and a linebacker on several third downs against mobile quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Tampa’s base defensive alignment is a 4-3.
McCoy implied that what didn’t work against Buffalo also won’t work this weekend against another quarterback who uses his legs well: the Panthers’ Cam Newton.
“You can be aggressive but not as aggressive because when you’ve got a guy who can run like Tyrod (Taylor) could or like Cam (Newton) can, you’ve got to keep your hands up front and really just kind of mirror the quarterback,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “For me, I make guys move. That’s why I give guards hell. Because once I get them in space, it’s a problem. But when I’m in a three-man front, I can’t really do that.”
Head coach Ron Rivera agreed that McCoy’s speed is dangerous. He’ll certainly test Carolina’s line, which is still missing its veteran starting center Ryan Kalil and gave up five sacks and 11 quarterback hurries to Chicago last week.
“The biggest thing (McCoy) has is he’s got this quickness, this burst,” said Rivera. “He plays with good pad level and good hand placement. He uses his quickness, though, and that’s one of his big strengths.”
Turner has been nursing a knee injury that he sustained against Chicago (he participated fully this week in practice) and didn’t want to expand too much before Sunday’s matchup on what he’ll have to throw out against McCoy, but Rivera said one key factor for Turner will be staying squared up.
“More so than anything else, it’s really about keeping your shoulders square and your technique,” Rivera said. “I mean, this guy has got some good quickness and counters very nicely. So we’re going to really count on (Trai) to play with square shoulders.”