Tennessee Titans fans were somewhat surprised when the team drafted former Auburn cornerback Roger McCreary with the No. 35 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. That reaction had nothing to do with McCreary’s talent (or lack thereof). McCreary was undeniably a borderline first-round prospect who had plenty of excellent flashes on tape while applying his trade in the uber-competitive SEC, but many expected the Titans to utilize that selection on the offensive side of the ball. McCreary’s infectious tenacity and energetic style of play will quickly make Titans fans realize McCreary was an excellent early second-round selection. McCreary appears poised to play a significant role on Tennessee’s defense in 2022.
McCreary recently spoke exclusively with Broadway Sports regarding his first taste of NFL action throughout organized team activities (OTAs), how he’s currently fitting into Tennessee’s young but talented secondary, playing both outside cornerback and the nickel, his performance against Alabama, playing man coverage, his ball skills, and so much more.
JM: You received your first taste of the NFL throughout rookie minicamp and organized team activities (OTAs). What was your main takeaway?
RM: I realized that it’s a whole new process of learning. Going into the league is a different beast. I had to learn from the older guys, especially in relation to the pace of practice and the playbook. Now that I’m here, the entire system and scheme is something new for me to learn. It’s not a system you learn in college for example. Your daily routine is extremely important as well. Establishing the proper routine can help you have a successful practice, and even a successful career. It’s always about the routine.
JM: Did you have a “Welcome to the NFL” moment?
RM: That’s funny (laughs). It was probably when the coaches told me to get in front of the defensive backs and tell a joke or whatever. I was trying to entertain my teammates (laughs). Coach Anthony Midget, coach Mike Vrabel, they asked me to show the confidence necessary to get in front of the group. The players asked me to as well. It’s something they always do with the rookies. That was the first experience that really caught my eye.
JM: That’s funny. You’ve joined an extremely talented secondary. There’s a great mix of veterans and ascending defenders. How do you see yourself fitting in?
RM: I don’t really have the answer to that question yet. I’m just coming in with a mindset that says I want to help the team right away. We have so many great, experienced players in our position room. Caleb Farley and Kristian Fulton are two excellent cornerbacks, for example. We have guys with experience and I’m just learning from them. I don’t know how everything is going to shake out in regards to my role or what position I’m going to play. I’m just trying to help the team while learning from my teammates.
JM: You mentioned some veterans. Was there a veteran or two that really took you under their wing at OTAs?
RM: A lot of them did. I learned from pretty much everybody. I can’t single out one or two guys that took me under their wing. I had productive conversations with everybody in our room. I went around asking questions about plays and playing different positions. Outside corners, nickel defenders, they were all extremely helpful while I was searching for pointers. They all helped me out no matter what. I can’t single out one particular person. The old heads, the real veterans, I learned so much from just watching how fast they play. They know the playbook and system inside out so there’s no hesitation with them. I’m trying to get that full experience while getting up to speed myself.
JM: I understand that you’re still learning how you fit in, but do you see yourself playing inside or outside? You played both at Auburn. Which do you prefer?
RM: I really don’t have a preference. I was playing a bunch of positions at rookie minicamp and OTAs and I enjoyed all of them. They utilized me in different manners and I didn’t enjoy one position more than the next. I don’t know which position I’ll actually be playing. I just want to help the team out any way I can. I want to be on the field no matter what. The rest will sort itself out in due time. Wherever the coaching staff tells me to play, that’s where I’m gonna’ line up and play. That isn’t one particular position.
JM: Some people were surprised when the Titans drafted a cornerback in the second round, but you’re exactly the type of fierce competitor they tend to love. Did you have a ton of communication with them throughout the pre-draft process?
RM: Yes sir, I had a Top-30 visit with the Titans in Nashville. I want to say it was my second private visit. I spoke with them throughout the process. We had a great visit. I really enjoyed getting to know the coaches while starting to understand their coaching methods. I thought we were a great fit for one another. I learned a lot about how they communicate and act on that visit. I loved everything about that visit, both on and off the field.
JM: Pro Football Focus assigned you a coverage grade of 92.7. That ranked first among all Power Five cornerbacks since 2019. Did you feel you got enough respect leading up to the draft?
RM: I wouldn’t say I got enough respect, because there were a lot of people trying to poke holes in my game or whatever. I didn’t get enough respect, but honestly, I don’t care about any of that anyway. I don’t care about whether or not an outsider respects me. I just know that when I get on the field, I’m going to prove people wrong. That’s always been my mentality. I’ve never lived, or played the game to satisfy other people. I’ve always just wanted to be the best version of Roger McCreary I can be. I’m out to prove myself right.
JM: I love your approach. When people talked about you as a prospect, it’s impossible to ignore the Alabama game. They targeted you like 18 times and you put some amazing things on tape. What was it like being in the zone for that game?
RM: I was really in the zone for that game. That was actually my last college game. I feel like I was definitely in the zone because I wanted to go out on the right note, especially against Alabama. I always wanted to play in the Iron Bowl. That was a goal of mine. As a kid from Mobile, Alabama, I grew up idolizing the Iron Bowl. It’s a massive game.
If you come from Alabama like I do, you know what it means to the people. It’s Auburn against Alabama. It’s self-explanatory. To have that game mark my final appearance in college, in the Iron Bowl, it was amazing. Even though we didn’t achieve our goal, I felt like I played a great game. I don’t regret anything about that game or experience. I’m happy I ended my college career in that manner.
JM: It really was special. You played a lot of press-man coverage at Auburn. The Titans love playing man coverage. What do you enjoy about playing press?
RM: I feel like playing press coverage is the day-one basics of playing cornerback. You have to play press coverage, period. You have to be able to handle a one-v-one assignment versus your man. You can play off coverage as well, that’s another option, but that press coverage is an old school classic in my book (laughs). Playing press coverage at a high level can showcase the true dog in a cornerback. If you can play press in this league, you can become a great cornerback.
That’s one thing we definitely did at Auburn. They loved playing press coverage. We did that from the beginning. I think being able to play press coverage is one of my strongest traits as a player.
JM: It shows on tape. I liked what you said there about being a dog. You’re very physical and aggressive on film. How did you develop that mindset as a player?
RM: I’m not going to lie to you, it didn’t happen overnight. I wasn’t an aggressive corner from the very first moment I started playing corner. I had to learn that along the way. When I first started, it was a rough experience (laughs). I’ll also say that even now, you can’t just be physical with every single receiver you encounter. It depends. My approach may alter from matchup to matchup. You have to put in the work. You can’t guess when playing press coverage. I had a lot to learn, and I’m still learning today. It was a great experience for me. I had to learn a lot before actually getting to the league.
JM: On that topic, how do you approach a bigger, more physical receiver in coverage differently than you do a smaller, shiftier one?
RM: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You can’t be physical with every receiver. Some of those bigger guys might be stronger than you are. I feel like I always have the edge because I have quick feet and I’m quicker than most receivers I encounter and I can change direction better than they can. Going into the league, I know I’ll be up against a lot of receivers that are bigger than I am. I’m always going to stay on top of my craft and work my techniques. I know I can compete against anybody because I always welcome a challenge.
JM: You totaled more than 30 pass breakups across your final three seasons. People will talk about your size and length, but those numbers speak for themselves. What is it about your game that allows you to get your hands on the ball so often?
RM: It goes back to what I said about having that dog mentality. I always want to get the upper hand on my opponent. That’s on a snap-by-snap basis. That’s my mindset. I approach every rep with my best foot forward, and I always want to play my best. I want to cover and shut down the No. 1 receiver no matter what. I don’t care if he’s faster, bigger, whatever, I approach every rep with that dog mentality. I play with that same mindset against every type of receiver. That’s the result I expect. That approach led to the pass breakups and what have you.
JM: That’s terrific stuff, Roger. We’ve appreciated your time today. In closing, what are your goals as we head into training camp?
RM: I’m starting with the basics. I just want to get on the field and help my team no matter what position I end up playing. I don’t have any other individual goals or anything like that. I’m just trying to carve out a role for myself first and foremost. I want to get on the field and play football. That’s all I want to do. That’s my mindset.