2016 was a difficult year for Indiana senior Robert McCray from a health standpoint. The 6-foot-2, 270-pound defensive lineman missed most of spring ball last year with a foot injury, and then he missed all of Fall Camp and the first four games of the season with a shoulder injury. The Conyers, Georgia native is 100 percent healthy this spring, and he recently spoke to Peegs.com about how it feels to be on the field with no limitations.
McCray said it is nice to be out on the field with his teammates because not being able to practice is tough to deal with.
“It feels great because when you’re out you kind of feel like you’re letting the team down and your teammates and the D-line,” he said. “Everybody is out there working hard and all you can do is sit there and watch. But it feels good to be healthy. That is my main objective this off-season, just to stay healthy and get stronger and be a big part of the defense.”
The talented Hoosier did say that one thing his injuries taught him last year was how to be a great teammate even when you aren’t able to produce on the field.
“You learn that you’ve just got to be there for your team and support those guys,” McCray said. “You are going to feel a little left out, but you still have to play your role no matter what is going on. You’ve got to learn to be a good teammate and cheer those guys on. I learned a lot from Pat Dougherty because he was a selfless guy and a good teammate.”
McCray has the ability to play either at defensive end or defensive tackle, but so far this spring he has been working primarily at D-end.
“Right now I am playing mostly end,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of big nose guards and D-tackles on the inside so I’m out at end.”
Indiana defensive line coach Mark Hagen said when he rejoined the staff last year he soon realized that McCray needed to be on the edge because of his athleticism.
“When I came in last year I was really trying to learn our personnel,” Hagen said. “I know he had moved inside some the previous season, but as I looked at our roster and started to identify body types and overall athleticism, I learned pretty quickly that he was probably going to have stay on the edge for us even though he’s a bigger edge guy. I think he’s doing a good job.”
Coach Hagen said the number one thing McCray needs this year is to stay healthy so that he can get as many reps as possible after missing so many last year.
“I think the biggest thing with Robert is just being able to practice,” Hagen said about McCray. “He’s been so nicked up during his career. It happened last spring when he lasted two or three practices and then he hurt his foot. And then the same thing in fall camp, he made it through three or four practices and then he got the collarbone and that set him back. He is a guy that even though he has played every season, he hasn’t had a prolonged period of time where he’s been able to practice and get those extra reps. Knock on wood he’s able to get that right now. He was able to knock the rust off a little bit last year, but I’ve challenged him because he’s one of our more talented athletes on the defensive line, he needs to ratchet his game up a couple of notches. He’s capable of doing it and I think he’s responded in a positive way so far. He needs to keep gaining on it because he’s a guy that can create negative yardage plays for us. He is one of our few guys that in a 1-on-1 situation can get to the quarterback.”
For McCray, these 15 spring practices are all about getting the defensive concepts down and making sure his technique is as good as it possibly can be.
“I want to focus on being strong against the run and improving my pass rush,” he said when asked what he is working on this spring. “I am just focused on learning my technique and doing my job on defense. I don’t think I was necessarily behind with the plays and stuff like that because I learned the defense, but it is just learning your concepts and your techniques and perfecting your techniques so the defense can work how it should.”