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Why Panthers DE Gerald McCoy isn't seeking revenge vs. the Bucs

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Eric Reid wasn’t sure what the fuss was about as fellow Carolina Panthers safety Tre Boston recalled a 2014 game against former teammate Steve Smith.

“Man, [Smith] went off on us,” Boston told Reid.

It was billed the “Blood and Guts” revenge game, playing off the promise the oft-volatile Smith publicly made after the Panthers released him, their all-time leading receiver, following the 2013 season. Smith channeled his anger into a seven-catch, 139-yard, two-touchdown performance for the Baltimore Ravens in a 38-10 spanking.

It was personal, and the Panthers felt it.

The topic came up because Thursday night, Carolina defensive lineman Gerald McCoy is facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom he spent his first nine NFL seasons, for the first time since they released him in May. McCoy insists it’s just another game — although he initially was frustrated the Bucs gave his No. 93 to free agent Ndamukong Suh shortly after his departure.

McCoy, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, says too much is being made about him facing the team that essentially told him he was past his prime at 31.

Boston didn’t sound convinced.

“I’m excited to see what this guy, who so-called by the Bucs lost a step, does,” he said. “You can take that as a little bit of disrespect. I can’t wait to see the step.”

For what it’s worth, McCoy spent 30 minutes Tuesday talking to reporters about “just another game.” He talked about how his father and other family members will be at Bank of America Stadium pulling for him to beat the team they’d previously cheered for, although he expects his youngest two kids to be in bed because it’s a school night.

McCoy’s family remains in Florida because he has only a one-year, $8 million deal with the Panthers and wasn’t willing to uproot them from school and friends.

But revenge? Hatred? McCoy wouldn’t make this game about that.

“My family, my friends, you guys, fans … everybody is making this game a big deal,” McCoy said. “I’m not. The only thing that is big about this game is I know exactly what they’re good at and what they’re not good at.”

So there were no promise of “blood and guts,” not even of bruises and nose bleeds. Despite vowing to retire a member of the Bucs, McCoy understands the business side of the NFL.

“In 2012, when I saw the Indianapolis Colts release Peyton Manning, my whole perspective of the NFL changed,” McCoy said. “Peyton Manning getting released opened my eyes to anybody getting released, no matter who you are.”

Providing Bucs intel

McCoy’s biggest contribution might have come earlier in the week when he spent hours with the staff breaking down quarterback Jameis Winston and everything the Bucs like to do.

“Jameis, I know all of your escape moves,” McCoy said as though he were talking directly to the Bucs QB. “I’m telling everything. I already know what they’re going to try to do to me, because I know how everybody blocks. I know what everybody else here does well, so I kind of help put together matchup problems.”

McCoy always was a concern for Carolina, collecting 3.5 of his career 54.5 sacks against quarterback Cam Newton. So not having to prepare for him is a relief for the defensive staff.

“Every time we played these guys it was always, ‘How are we going to block Gerald? How are we going to block Gerald?’” Carolina Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “He’s just a problem.”

What McCoy doesn’t want to be is overexcited, something he has witnessed when a player faces a former team.

“The night before, they’re losing their minds,” McCoy said. “The day of the game, they’re losing their minds. Relax. Just go play the game. You see some that won’t play well because they’re so overhyped.”

McCoy’s father, who’s missed only six games in his son’s career, offered this advice.

“Go play football, son,” McCoy recounted. “Don’t worry about what everybody else is saying. Expectations are like, ‘Oh, he’s gotta go out and destroy the Bucs. It’s his former team and they cut him.’ So what? It’s one game.

“They brought me in to play well every week, so don’t make such a big deal out of this.”

Facing friends

Bucs inside linebacker Lavonte David wasn’t happy when McCoy, one of his best friends, was released. The two talk almost every day, and this week hasn’t been different.

“It will be an emotional meetup with me and Gerald,” David said. “It’s gonna be difficult seeing him on the other side.”

McCoy also has spoken to Winston and Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans this week. His message to Winston was to keep his head up after throwing three interceptions in a Week 1 loss to San Francisco and get better — after this week.

“I told Mike, ‘Screw you for messing with my fantasy [team],’ because I had him starting in one of my fantasy leagues,” McCoy said of the 6-foot-5 Evans, who had two catches for 25 yards on Sunday.

Once the game starts, the Bucs are the enemy.

“I’m treating it like I’ve been with the Panthers for 10 years,” McCoy said.

Snow cones and shoulder pads

One chore of being a rookie in the NFL is having to carry the shoulder pads and helmets of veterans after practice. So when McCoy grabbed helmets from veterans and carried them to the locker room after Carolina’s first practice of training camp, it turned heads.

So did the shaved-ice truck he had waiting for teammates after his first practice in June and again in camp.

That helped McCoy earn instant credibility as a leader, something guard Trai Turner already knew after spending time with him at the Pro Bowl and going head-to-head against him in games.

“Good-ass player,” Turner said. “Still like that. When you go up against good competition, you raise up your game.”

McCoy hopes to raise his game after getting just one tackle and no sacks or quarterback pressures in the opener, a 30-27 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. He admittedly had trouble getting into a rhythm, playing only 51.4% of the snaps after playing 69.9% of the snaps last season at Tampa Bay.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera wants to keep McCoy fresh.

“It’s a difficult thing for guys who are used to playing 65-70 snaps a game,” Rivera said. “It’s understanding the rhythm. It’s really about being ready to play when it gets to crunch time.”

Vegan-fueled

McCoy believes the decision to become a vegan this year will help him in crunch time, just as Newton swears the plant-based diet has made him more fit than ever.

“He’s a much better vegan than me,” McCoy said of Newton. “Look at him. He’s got abs. I’m 310 pounds. He’s like 6% body fat.”

A trip to a vegan restaurant in Charlotte with many of his new teammates helped convince McCoy to sign with the Panthers during his recruiting visit. And it was a return trip to Fern, where a couple picked up his tab, that made McCoy feel welcomed.

“I thought I was a part of Charlotte as soon as my food was paid for,” he said with a smile.

And while McCoy hopes to feast on Winston and his former teammates Thursday night, “blood and guts” won’t be a part of his diet.

“I’m not sitting at home going, ‘What if I don’t play well in this game?’” he said. “What about the other 14? It’s a long season, and I play them again. It’s just one game. Everybody just chill.”

ESPN NFL Nation Bucs reporter Jenna Laine contributed to this report.