Only the most devoted of Dolphins fans would recognize the name
After all, he spent all of his rookie season in 2012 on injured reserve after sustaining a foot injury only a few days into training camp. And this was after he had joined the team in early May as one of 16 undrafted free agents.
But the safety just might be a player to watch as the Dolphins continue holding spring practices and then open training camp in July. Head Coach Joe Philbin spoke glowingly of the first-year safety at the owners’ meetings in Arizona and then McCray flashed a little bit of his intriguing potential during the second OTA practice open to the media when he came up with an interception.
“I hate to make it sound so simplistic, but he moves around like a football player,” Philbin said this week. “I think maybe you’ve heard me use that term. It’s a term we use a lot upstairs. He moves like a safety should move, he looks like a safety should look, and I think his play speed has been increasing the last couple of practices. Certainly there is still some rust there that has to come off, but we think he has a future.”
Those comments echoed what Philbin had said in mid-March when he was asked about the state of his defense and mentioned two players by name. One was safety
“Kelcie McCray is a guy that we were excited about,” Philbin said. “In a limited role that we saw him, he’s going to have a chance to get to work again. I’m excited about it.”
It didn’t take long for someone to reach out to McCray on Twitter to let him know his coach had talked about him, but a week later McCray — while participating in the Dolphins’ visit to Baptist Children’s Hospital — still didn’t know the exact nature of the comments.
What he did know was that the comments got him even more energized to get back on the field and show what he could do.
“That motivates me even more knowing that I showed something to the head coach,” McCray said. “That definitely motivates me.
“I mean, I’m excited myself to get out on the field. I definitely did some good things the time I did practice. I definitely showed some of my skills, what I can do. I’m glad they were impressed. I’m excited to get out there this season.”
McCray can find motivation from a lot of different sources these days. In addition to Philbin’s comments, he wants to show he should have been selected in the 2012 draft after an impressive career at Arkansas State.
The second-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection in 2011 has big goals for himself, goals that go beyond merely making his NFL debut.
“I’m definitely shooting for a starting job,” he said. “I wouldn’t be a competitor if I wanted to go to training camp just hoping to make the roster. I’m definitely trying to be a starting safety in this league, starting safety this year. That should be every guy’s goal that plays in the NFL, to be a starting player. That’s definitely one of my goals this year.”
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But, judging by Philbin’s comments and by his performance in the OTAs so far, he does have some intriguing potential.
“You’ve heard me use this term before, he kind of moved around like a football player,” Philbin said. “Again, watching Ben Roethlisberger throw the ball at Iowa when he was a sophomore or redshirt freshman — I can’t remember what year he was — there’s sometimes when you’re just watching film and you look at the guys and you’re saying this guy kind of looks like a football player, the way it should be.
“(McCray) kind of runs naturally. He maybe has some instinct going after the ball down the field. He can catch the ball easy without fighting it. That’s a word I like to use a lot. I kind of like those kind of players that move around like that.”
No question, McCray showed playmaking ability at Arkansas State, recording 10 interceptions over his last three seasons there, including four as a senior and four as a sophomore.
“I pride myself at being a playmaker, somebody that’s going to go after the ball,” McCray said. “The ball is in the air, (I’m) somebody who’s going to go up and get it.”
McCray says his injury has completely healed. In fact, he says he was back to 100 percent sometime during last season.
It’s a testament to the Dolphins’ confidence in him that they kept him after putting him on injured reserve after the broken bone in his foot healed.
“I didn’t know what it was,” McCray said of the injury. “I tried to go back out and play on it, as a matter of fact, but it was too bad. My trainer, he knew. He knew what it was right away, but I didn’t know what was going on.
“It was crazy. It was devastating. I was mad once I broke my foot because I’ve been waiting all my life to get to this point. As soon as I get here, I get hurt. It was devastating. Thankfully I did enough throughout the summer and rookie minicamp and minicamp that they kept me around.
“I was projected to get drafted, but I wasn’t. So I definitely went to minicamp with a chip on my shoulder and I felt like I had something to prove. Even now I feel like I have something to prove.”