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May 30, 2012
Dallas Jackson is the National High School Sports Analyst for Rivals. Email him your questions and comments at DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
Trotwood (Ohio) Trotwood-Madison outside linebacker Mike McCray is an eager participant in the summer camp circuit. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound four-star believes any time on the field is a good time as he prepares for the season ahead.
Unlike many players at his position, McCray feels that the time spent on one-on-ones and in 7-on-7 is actually time spent playing to his strength.
"Coverage is one the strongest parts of my game," he said. "I have really good speed for my size and I like getting out in coverage."
As if to underscore the ability to move in space McCray points out that his secondary sport uses his best attribute as well:
The Michigan-bound McCray roams center field for the Trotwood-Madison baseball team.
"I always have been good at baseball," he said. "I have really great range so I may not be the perfect size in the outfield, I am a good athlete and really can play almost any position."
Come June 22-24 at Lakewood Stadium in Atlanta, McCray will be trying to contain some of the best running backs and tight ends in the country at the inaugural Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge.
"It is really exciting," he said. "It is a chance to be going against the best of the best in the country.
"It will really be getting me geared up for football season. It will get me some more exposure and I get to see how I compare to the rest of the players."
He said that many people tell him that he reminds them of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks with his ability to rush the passer as well as run in space and cover opponents.
That coverage ability will not only play well come the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge but also in the regular season where McCray says his area of Ohio is trying to change the perception of football in the state.
"Our area is really tough," he said. "But a lot of teams are getting out of that power running game and spreading it out more.
"I still get to rush and pursue the ball but I am forced into coverage a lot more now than maybe I would have been a couple years ago."
McCray said that he needs to spend more time in the weight room getting stronger, a self-perceived weakness of his that he thinks will come easier to overcome when he gets to work with a strength coach at Michigan. He knows that his ability to hold his own in space is an advantage no matter the level.
"The goal is to get better," he said. "Even if I am good in coverage I can get better and I don't think that having that as a strength is anything but a positive because not all guys my size can do it.
"I am not at a disadvantage in a regular game so I don't think that I will be at a disadvantage in a camp, those other guys will see that too."
Mike Farrell's take
McCray is a huge linebacker and I'm very interested to see how he moves in space, how instinctual he is and if he's a potential five-star talent because he has that look on film but he's not quite there yet. How will he compared with Jaylon Smith, who is also a big, quick twitch linebacker from the same area? His drops and ability in coverage are excellent so he should excel in this environment.