Bryan McCann believes he belongs
Rookie cornerback's "conscientious" approach to practice and the film room pays off
IRVING, Texas -- He's no longer known just as No. 37 by the veterans around Valley Ranch. They all know Bryan McCann's name now.
"He is the man," receiver Roy Williams said. "Mr. McCann is what I call him."
Guys who use savvy and speed to score game-changing touchdowns two straight weeks get respect. They also tend to get a lot of recognition. That's certainly been the case for the undrafted rookie cornerback from SMU.
McCann was named the NFC's defensive player of the week after his 101-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Nov. 14 upset over the New York Giants. The Dallas Cowboys were forced to play McCann at cornerback after injuries to starters Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, and he responded by breaking a franchise record and busting the game open when it appeared the Giants were on the verge of taking the lead.
His encore act during the following Sunday's come-from-behind win over the Detroit Lions earned McCann the NFC's special teams player of the week honor. Cowboys Stadium felt like a $1.2 billion funeral parlor before McCann scooped up a punt the Lions were trying to down at the 3-yard line, turned the corner and turned on his 4.28 speed to sprint 97 yards up the left sideline for the go-ahead score.
McCann has also made a significant impact as a kickoff returner, filling a major void for the Cowboys. He has averaged 26.9 yards on eight returns, including a long of 38 that would have been a touchdown if he didn't stumble on his last cut, allowing the Detroit kicker to take him down.
"There's something about him that good things happen to him," tight end Jason Witten said. "It doesn't happen by accident. He works hard."
That's why McCann, who has a lot of swagger for a kid who was cut by two teams in September and didn't get promoted from the Dallas practice squad until early November, insists he isn't stunned by his sudden success. He intends to purchase a large trophy case to store his touchdown balls, figuring two is a nice start to his collection.
He didn't get lucky on his pick-six in New Meadowlands Stadium. His film work paid off. Based on the formation, he knew what route Giants star Hakeem Nicks was supposed to run. Actually, he knew better than Nicks, who had a miscommunication with Eli Manning, who threw a slant right to McCann.
There was a fortunate bounce involved on the punt return against the Lions, but McCann made sure he was in the right spot. He also knew it was a no-risk play to attempt to pick up the ball, having listened when special teams coach Joe DeCamillis mentioned in meetings a little-known rule that there can't be a turnover once a player from the punting team has touched the ball.
The deer-in-the-headlights phenomenon common in rookies doesn't apply to McCann, who readily admits that he takes pride in proving every NFL team wrong. He believes he belongs, no matter how big the moment.
"If you're prepared and have done all your film work and studied your opponent -- know everything that they're going to do or that they've shown in the past -- then there's really nothing to be nervous about," McCann said. "All the work was done during the week. When Sunday comes, it's just a matter of going out there and playing."
Don't confuse McCann's confidence for cockiness.
"Conscientious" is the word SMU coach June Jones uses to describe McCann. Former SMU coach Phil Bennett, who couldn't believe Big 12 schools didn't heavily recruit the Oklahoma City native, credits McCann's parents for instilling both a sense of self-confidence and strong humility in their son.
McCann might be setting NFL records for media accessibility -- he answered questions from the moment reporters were allowed in the locker room until the moment they were required to leave Monday -- but he isn't getting swept up in his newfound celebrity. He interrupted the back-patting parade to mention that he gave up a few big plays against the Giants and got lucky that a late touchdown to Nicks was negated by a penalty.
"He understands it's not about one play," said Cowboys secondary coach Dave Campo, who considers time in the weight room the key to the 5-foot-10, 189-pound McCann fulfilling his potential as a playmaking cornerback. "It's about consistency. That's where a guy is really made. He has a long way to go. He knows that."
Of course, nobody can blame McCann for enjoying the moment. He celebrated Sunday's home win by going out to eat with his parents, spending most of dinner discussing his dash to glory.
But, as much as Juarez McCann is puffing out his chest, he wanted to make sure his son's head isn't swelling. That's why the father picked up his phone about a minute after McCann's parents dropped him off at his apartment.
"I had just walked in the door," McCann said. "He called me and said, 'Don't think I forgot about you getting tackled by that kicker!'"
At least No. 37's teammates forgave him for that sin.