|After career year, McCray covets long-term deal with Jags|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 30 July 2007 11:44|
For now, he might have to settle for a starting spot.
Despite skipping the team's offseason program, which included a mandatory mini-camp, McCray opened training camp this past weekend as a starter.
It was somewhat surprising, since McCray missed so many practices and veteran Paul Spicer had started the last two years opposite Reggie Hayward. Then again, Spicer will be 32 next month and McCray had a career-high 10 sacks last season while subbing for Hayward.
``It's always nice to open camp like that, but I'm not going to be complacent,'' McCray said. ``I'm going to keep working and fighting for the spot. I'm definitely trying to have another year, a better year, and keep going.''
McCray has become one of the franchise's finest finds - a seventh-round draft pick in 2004 who has developed into a top-notch pass-rusher.
His 19 career sacks are more than any seventh-rounder has produced in his first three years since 1994, when the NFL reduced the draft from 12 to seven rounds. And McCray accomplished it mostly as a part-time player.
Now, he's ready to be a full-fledged star, getting the kind of attention awarded to fellow defensive linemen Hayward, Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.
``As long as I'm healthy and I keep that desire just like I had last year, which I will, I'm going to try to see if I can do better than I did last year,'' McCray said. ``I'm going to turn it up a little bit more.''
If so, a big payday could follow.
McCray and agent Drew Rosenhaus wanted more money following last season, but the Jaguars refused to redo his contract. The team tendered McCray, a restricted free agent, at the first-round level, meaning another team would have to give Jacksonville a first-round draft pick to sign him.
No one was that interested, leaving McCray with little choice but to sign a one-year deal worth $1.85 million. Still, McCray showed his displeasure by skipping the team's offseason condition program.
He worked out on his own in Orlando, eventually signed the tender in June and showed up to camp in shape and ready to play.
The Jaguars, though, welcomed him back with arguably the deepest and most competitive position in training camp. Hayward, McCray and Spicer have several younger players pushing them for playing time, including speedy ends Brent Hawkins, Kenny Pettway and James Wyche.
``We feel like we have a group that will compete, that will be able to come out of camp with something that we can go out and win with,'' coach Jack Del Rio said. ``We'll have to see.''
Added Spicer: ``I feel like I got my work cut out for me. It's nothing I'm not ready for. I feel like every camp I have to work for what I get. But with Reggie back, we've definitely gained some more depth. That's one thing we missed last year.''
McCray also is up for the challenge. After all, he never doubted his ability - even when others did.
He was second in the Southeastern Conference with 9 1/2 sacks as a senior at Florida in 2003. He was suspended for one game, hurt for a few others, and coaches complained he wouldn't work hard enough in practice and took plays off in games.
His draft stock was hindered even more when he strained a hamstring two weeks before the NFL combine in Indianapolis, causing him to run slower-than-expected times in the 40-yard dash.
Still, McCray figured he would be selected on the draft's first day. Instead, he plummeted to the 249th overall selection and headed to nearby Jacksonville.
McCray was devastated, but determined to prove the rest of the league wrong.
So far, he has.
``I've played with a chip on my shoulder for so long, but I'm finally starting to get rid of that mentality,'' McCray said. ``I know what I can do, and so does everybody else.''