ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --
Undrafted and unfazed by the prospect of continuing the nine-year streak of a college free agent making the Broncos’ active 53-man roster, the rookie linebacker out of Florida is instead solely focused on what he can control headed into the final game of the preseason.
“I’ve been hearing about the streak, but it’s not really a big deal to me,” McCray said after Tuesday’s practice. “I’m just trying to come out here and play football. Do what I can to make this team. That’s all.”
Thursday night’s game with Arizona represents the culmination of a long road that began on the final day of April for McCray and other college free agents, spanning through OTAs, minicamp, a six-week break and the grueling stretch of training camp and preseason.
And with one final chance to leave a lasting impression on the field, McCray isn’t weighed down by concerns of whether he’s done enough over the past six weeks. He’s embracing the game as an opportunity to go out and live one of his passions – the same mentality that he’s maintained all along.
“I’m just doing what I love, never looking back at it as if I could have done something better,” he said. “Just going out here and playing ball like I always have been my entire life.”
The uncertainty of having to earn his way onto the team’s roster hasn’t weighed on McCray – instead, he’s experienced quite the opposite.
“I always looked at is as there was no pressure coming in. I was an underdog coming in,” McCray said. “Everything that I do from here on out is going to be a plus because nobody picked me to make a team, I wasn’t drafted. There was no pressure coming in.”
He’s responded with strong showings on the practice field and in the preseason.
In the fourth quarter of the team’s preseason opener at San Francisco, McCray swallowed up 49ers quarterback Scott Tolzein for an 8-yard loss – the first sack of his NFL career.
In last Saturday’s 27-26 win over the Rams, he had an even bigger impact.
Midway through the fourth quarter, McCray came free on a Brett Baer punt attempt, blocking the punt and setting up what ultimately proved to be the Broncos’ game-winning touchdown.
“It was very exciting. I never blocked a punt in college, so coming here and being able to block a punt, it was astonishing,” he said. “I didn’t know how to react to it. It just was overwhelming at the moment.”
Making a big play on special teams is one way to grab the attention of a coaching staff – Terrell Davis proved that in 1995 – but McCray was most excited about the play because it put his team in position to win the game.
“It kind of changed the tone of the game. When you’re faced with adversity in a game – we were kind of down – and then you block a punt and score,” McCray said. “That kind of brought the momentum back to our side and we just finished the game like that. It’s a good feeling to block a punt and be able to lead to the winning touchdown of the game like that.”
It’s the type of impact that McCray will hope to continue to be able to make for the Broncos.
And as he’s undergone the gauntlet of new experiences that have led him and his fellow NFL rookies to the final game of the preseason, McCray noted that he’s tried to soak up as much knowledge and expertise as possible from his more-experienced teammates.
Ultimately, whatever roster decisions that take place will come down to compiling a 53-man roster that the Broncos’ coaching and personnel staffs believe best equips the team to win games – something that Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio emphasized in his press conference on Tuesday.
“All the guys, I think the biggest thing is to keep playing. Keep working. Keep putting your best foot forward,” Del Rio said. “Keep growing as a player, in the system understanding what your role is—whether it’s special teams, defense, offense if you’re an offensive guy. How you can help this football team.”
“If he’s still here, he’s still in the mix,” Del Rio added.