Marcus McCauley might have slipped in the draft, but if the first two days of practice are any indication, the confident cornerback looks like first-round talent.
The 6-foot-1, 203-pounder has seized the open competition for the Vikings' nickel corner spot. In four practices, McCauley has received the majority of reps as the third cornerback and demonstrated impressive natural instincts. He has jumped numerous routes, played physical, tight coverage and intercepted a pass.
"It's definitely gone well," said McCauley, following Saturday afternoon's session. "The DB coach (Joe Woods) has a thing where he wants to support our schools. The guy he feels has the best day, he's going to wear their school hat. It just so happened that he put on my school hat last night. I told him to keep it clean because he's going to keep wearing it. Obviously, I want to keep it up."
So far, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is impressed.
"When we drafted him, we felt like he was a guy who had play-making ability," Frazier said. "He has kind of validated what we thought about him as a player, and we envisioned him being a factor in our third-down package early on, really helping us as our third corner. That is our hope and goal, and so far, he has not done anything to disappoint.
"We've got some guys out there to create some great competition for that third corner spot, but ideally, hopefully Marcus can come around and be what we think he is capable of being."
Coaches aren't the only ones noticing McCauley's strong start.
"I just think he's playing very well within the system," said veteran safety Mike Doss. "He's gaining confidence every day. He's getting the opportunity to make some plays."
Entering his senior year at Fresno State, McCauley had the opportunity to be a likely first-round pick. However, 2006 didn't go as planned. McCauley reacted to a dismal season-long team performance by pressing to make big plays and at times abandoning his individual assignments. At one point, the 2005 second team All-WAC performer found himself on the bench.
"Just in talking with his coaches and other people who worked with him, it was just a combination of things that all seniors go through and some handle it better than others," Frazier said. "For him, he just didn't handle things as well as he probably could have in his senior season."
But the Vikings looked past McCauley's disappointing year. The club was happy to grab him with their pick in the third round (72nd overall).
"When I got to know Marcus, having a chance to talk with other people that did know him," Frazier said, "I just sensed that with that athletic ability that he does have and that size and speed and the fact that he is a good person, now if we can coach him in a proper way, we can get the most out of him. So far, everything we've talked about we are seeing. Now we haven't played a game yet, but we really feel like we got a steal in the round that we got him."
"Everyone knows that I have first-round talent," he said without a strong hint of arrogance. "Just for whatever reason, everything happened the way it did. All that is behind me now."
In front of him is a tremendous opportunity with the Vikings.
"Every time I go out there, (my goal) is to show up, flash my talent out there," said McCauley, who called veteran corner Antoine Winfield his mentor. "It's not really a position, nickel or corner or anything like that; I'm just out there trying to make plays.
"At corner the biggest thing is winning more battles than you lose. Sometimes, you just have to go with your instincts. With myself, I feel that I am a very smart player, and I recognize a lot of things before they happen. The biggest thing is me trusting myself all the time. I feel there were a couple plays that I left out there today that I should have made. That comes along with trusting your instincts. Every great player trusts their instincts."
McCauley, who was teammates at Fresno State with current Vikings running back Wendell Mathis and tight end Stephen Spach, trusts Frazier's guidance.
"He's a down-to-earth guy," McCauley said. "He's always teaching…If he sees something that you need to do, he's going to let you know in a professional manner."
In one of his first acts as a professional, McCauley said he's "getting" his parents a house back home in Sacramento. A sociology major, McCauley was the first person in his family to earn a college degree. But after two hot days in the sun, McCauley didn't have his mind on his family or scholarly pursuits.
"I'm going to check out The Simpsons tonight," McCauley said about the new movie based on the wildly popular animated comedy television series. "I've been waiting for a chance to go see that."
After all, at this point, McCauley is having the last laugh.
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