Bears’ Danny McCray raises game, should start at free safety
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter August 29, 2014 9:24PM
The Bears signed Danny McCray to be a special-teams stalwart, but he impressed the coaches enough to be held out of the exhibition finale Thursday in Cleveland. | Nam Y. Huh/AP
Updated: August 30, 2014 2:14AM
Danny McCray didn’t know how to take the news. The safety was going to be one of 40 players who would be sitting out the Bears’ final exhibition Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns.
“It was my first time actually not playing in it,” said McCray, a fifth-year veteran, “so I’m not sure of the meaning behind it all.”
The meaning behind joining quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall, linebacker Lance Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman and other players deemed too valuable to risk injury in a fourth exhibition is undoubtedly a positive one.
McCray surely knows that. The friendly grin on his face said everything: He has impressed the Bears. McCray hasn’t been just the special-teams stalwart he was signed to be. McCray started the Bears’ first three preseason games at free safety and figures to remain there for Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, especially if Chris Conte still is dealing with a concussion.
With the Bears making cuts for their 53-man roster Friday and Saturday, McCray stands out as the best example of an unheralded player who took his opportunity and ran with it. Other offseason signings, such as linebacker Jordan Senn (cut Sunday) and safety M.D. Jennings, can’t say the same.
“I did a fairly decent job [this preseason],” said McCray, who made seven total tackles. “We’ve just got to see how that looks in the coaches’ eyes when it comes down to Monday and Wednesday, whenever the plan comes out for Buffalo.”
From McCray’s vantage point, this is the second time he has outperformed pre-conceived expectations. In four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, McCray went from being a key special-teamer in 2010 and 2011 to a 10-game starter in 2012.
“I was pegged just as a special-teams guy, and then I made a couple of plays at safety,” said McCray, who didn’t start for the Cowboys last season. “It didn’t last as long as I had hoped it would, but I felt like I did that in that situation, and I’m trying to do it again here.”
McCray still expects to be a four-phase player on special teams, but his starting role on defense and questions at safety might prevent that.
McCray signed with the Bears because of his relationship with coordinator Joe DeCamillis, his special-teams coach with the Cowboys.
“We’ll cross that road when we come to it,” DeCamillis said when asked about McCray playing defense and special teams. “We’ll just have to see how that works out. He started in Dallas for me and still played quite a few teams and was effective, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Despite his relationship with DeCamillis, McCray still sees this season as a new start. The Bears asked him to lose weight, and he did. The Bears told him the competition at safety was wide open, and he capitalized, especially with Conte sidelined after offseason shoulder surgery.
“Well, everybody else said I was signed here to play special teams,” McCray said. “When I signed here, I was told something different, that you can help as much as you can on any part of the team that you can be good in [and] that you have a chance to make a name at your position.”
Coach Marc Trestman said after the exhibition finale in Cleveland that the safeties “were in a pretty good place right now” and that they have looked confident. McCray’s rise has helped with that.
“I don’t mind [being called a special-teamer],” McCray said. “If you tell me I’m really good at something, I’m going to tell you, ‘Thank you.’ This situation is just playing out differently so far.”