Marcus McCauley has spoken numerous times about the circumstances that led to him losing his starting job in his senior year, but his Fresno State coach speaks highly of him and McCauley says it hasn't been an issue with his current Vikings teammates because they have had a chance to see his skills are NFL-worthy.
"I think my play out here overshadows that too much," McCauley said. "They see how many plays I make out here and that's in the past. That doesn't make you the player you are today. You see All-American guys that come into the NFL and are busts and you see those kind of struggle for whatever reason and then come up here and shine. I'm past it all. Some people bring it up every now and then, but when people see me out here, they kind of tend to forget about it."
So far, McCauley, who was a potential first-round draft choice had he elected to enter the NFL draft after his junior season, hasn't struggled much for a rookie. Instead, the 2005 second-team All-WAC selection has a strong chance to make a healthy contribution in his rookie season.
"I feel I'm very comfortable. We put in a lot of defenses, but all the concepts are pretty much the same," McCauley said toward the end of organized team activities last month. "It's just about getting in the playbook. We've got a lot of extra time after practice. It's 12 o'clock right now, so I'm going to go home and get in the playbook. I'm learning more and more every day and watch a lot of film."
His progression was stepped up with absence of starting left cornerback Antoine Winfield from most of the voluntary workouts. By the final week of practices open to the media, McCauley was working with the first-team defense, a role previously reserved for Cedric Griffin and Dovonte Edwards when Winfield wasn't participating.
But the depth chart didn't seem to be a major concern for McCauley at that time.
"I kind of wish Antoine was here because when he was here in minicamp I was kind of watching everything he was doing. A guy like that, you can't help but watch and learn from, and I told him that," McCauley said.
But head coach Brad Childress was able to find some good that came from Winfield's spring-time absence – McCauley getting used to the Vikings' defense.
"I think that's the great upside, probably the silver lining with Antoine not being here is (McCauley's) turns," Childress said in June. "You can't put a premium on the turns that he is getting out here versus formations, motions, different route concepts. I think that's a great thing for him. He's done a good job. He missed our first three days of the rookie camp because he was graduating on that Sunday, but I think he's gotten pretty well back up to speed."
McCauley put a premium on his education and graduating was important to him. On the football field, he increased his tackle totals each of his four seasons – 11, 31, 45, 55 – and caused two fumbles each of his last two years at Fresno State.
Back in Minnesota, McCauley wisely isn't getting caught up in the depth chart just yet. It changed often throughout the spring as coaches like to get different combinations of players working together while support staff has the cameras running. It helps the coaches evaluate the players long after the practices have ended.
"I'm not really looking to the depth chart right now, I'm just happy to be getting as many reps as I'm getting as a rookie. … I'm not really looking at what team or who I'm coming in with. I'm just taking each rep, rep by rep," he said, but adding that he wasn't surprised to be getting time with the first-team defense.
"Not really because I know the talent and ability that I have. I didn't really set any goals. The first thing that I wanted to do was gain the respect of my teammates. Coming in as a rookie, I wanted to show them that I could help the team and that I'm a team player. I'm not here for any other reason than to win, so I think I'm gaining the respect of my teammates and everybody is getting along real well."
While the Vikings don't wear full pads during their minicamps or OTAs, McCauley might gain his teammates' respect even more once training camp and the hitting really begin.
While he can run with wide receivers in coverage and has ideal size (6-foot-1, 203 pounds) for a cornerback, he is known as a physical corner that takes on running backs and can "stick a knife in a sweep," as Childress likes to say.
He is expected to compete with Edwards for the nickel back role early in camp, but his presence gives the Vikings a bit more security and depth at the cornerback position. With McCauley, the coaches don't have to worry about him not being physical enough and he says they don't see any issues with him on the mental side of the game either.
"From the standpoint of what I've done in the OTAs and minicamp, I think they're really comfortable with me being out there in any situation, and they're seeing that I know the defense," McCauley said. "Our DBs coach, he always tells me that I have an intelligence for the game, and I know a lot of things that are going on around me. I think that helps me as a corner. You've got to be instinctual. At this point in time, I'm able to process a lot of information. A lot is being thrown at me, but because I'm intelligent I'm able to slow things down and process the information. … From the playbook standpoint, they don't think I need to improve on that because I haven't busted any coverages. Just fine-tune the little basics of the defense."
So far, the Vikings' third-round draft pick appears soft-spoken, well-skilled and seems to have a quiet confidence about his place in the NFL.
McCauley Has Quiet Confidence
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