Wednesday, May 12, 2010

McCann Draws Praise From Cowboys Coaches After Mini-Camp

Story courtesy of PonyFans.com

Immediately after the final practice of last weekend's Dallas Cowboys rookie mini-camp, the media swarmed head coach Wade Phillips on the field at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. The throng peppered Phillips with questions about the team's draft picks, primarily wide receiver Dez Bryant.

After he had gone through the draftees, however, Phillips was asked which of the undrafted free agents stood out to him over the three-day camp. The first one he mentioned was SMU graduate Bryan McCann.

"I thought McCann looked really good," Phillips said. "He's a smart guy and he's got great speed. I thought he picked some things up really quick. He was a little sore (Saturday and Sunday), but he looked pretty good."

McCann hardly had time to ease into camp while soaking up the emotions that go along with becoming a professional player.

"It was pretty exciting the first time I put that jersey on, but that excitement wore off pretty fast," McCann said. "When we got there, we went right into meetings.

"It was cool seeing my name on a nameplate above the locker, but like I said, it wore off pretty fast. We had meetings and then we hit the practice field, and we had to hit the ground running."

Run he did. At the very beginning of the Cowboys' "live" drills between wide receivers and defensive backs, McCann found himself staring into the face of top draft pick Dez Bryant. McCann was in far better physical condition than Bryant, who hadn't played a game or even practiced since a suspension that started in September, so the fact that he ran stride-for-stride with the first-round pick from Oklahoma State was no surprise. What did open some eyes was the way McCann went up in the air against the bigger, stronger Bryant and ripped a few passes out of his hands.

"I was happy with the way I performed out there," McCann said. "There's a lot I've got to learn, but I think I did pretty well.

While Bryant's obvious skills were eye-catching, McCann and the other rookies didn't have time to stop and admire his new teammate.

"After every time you went (through drills), you had two or three coaches coming at you with corrections, trying to make you better player."

McCann wasn't the only one who was impressed.

"The coaches said they were impressed," McCann said. "(Secondary) Coach (Dave) Campo told me I looked like I belonged out there. I've still got to win the veterans over, though."

Many young players report that one of the hardest adjustments when going from college to the NFL is learning the terminology utilized by their new teams. By playing at SMU, McCann said he had a headstart on some of his teammates.

"I'd been lucky to play at SMU, because the system (the Cowboys) use is similar to what Coach (Tom) Mason (SMU's defensive coordinator) runs," McCann said. "It's not exactly the same, of course, but a lot of the code words (the Cowboys) use mean the same things they did in our defense at SMU. A lot of the terms are similar. I've still got a lot to learn, but that did help make some of it easier to remember."

It's one thing to understand a system; it's another thing altogether to merge that knowledge with the raw physical skills and talent needed to face off against a high-profile player like Bryant.

"I went in to camp with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder," McCann said. "I have to play that way, until I accomplish something, and I haven't accomplished anything yet.

"I told my dad that I think I can compete with anyone they drafted. He said that's fine, but they drafted these guys ahead of you, so that means they think those guys are better than you. You can't compete with those guys -- you have to be better than those guys."

McCann took his father's advice, in part because it reflected the confidence he said is vital for any player at his position, especially when he is defending an ├╝ber-talented receiver like Bryant.

"The mindset of a cornerback has to be they're the best player on the field, regardless of who is in front of him," McCann said. "It it's not, you're beat before the play even starts. So when I'm guarding Dez, I'm trying to show -- even as an undrafted free agent -- what I can do for the coaches.

"I was proud of what I did out there, and I think they thought I did well, too."

After the mini-camp, McCann planned to work out with Bryant, but a family emergency took him home to Oklahoma for a few days. Now he's back in Dallas, training and getting ready for the Cowboys' first OTA (Organized Team Activity), at which point he'll take the field with the veteran players for the first time.

Many players contend that the NFL game -- even in practice -- is significantly faster than what they experienced in college, but McCann said he had been training at high speed since shortly after helping to lead the Mustangs to a rout of Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl in SMU's first bowl appearance in 25 years.

"Everybody keeps saying how much faster it is, but keep in mind, I've been training for the last six months with Emmanuel (Sanders, SMU's record-setting wide receiver who was drafted in the third round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Chasing these guys is like chasing him -- they've all got speed, they can stop on a dime, they push off. So that's what I'm learning -- how to get in there and push back, to lean on the guy, to tug on his elbow to get him off his route but without getting a flag thrown."

Before the mini-camp, McCann signed a three-year contract with the Cowboys that is contingent upon him making the team. To earn that contract, he said his focus is on learning his new assignments on defense and special teams (he fielded both kickoffs and punts during mini-camp), and proving that, as Campo and other coaches told him, he belongs.

"I wouldn't say it's stressful, and I'm not really on-edge, but there's always some uncertainty," McCann said. "But Coach Campo told me I looked like I belong out there. (Safeties) Coach (Brett) Maxie said he liked the way I did some things.

"If I can continue to do that, continue to show I have the heart for football and a nose for the ball, then I'll be OK -- I'll know I can compete at this level."