With a team filled with names like Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith, Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, it's easy to overlook Jacksonville Jaguars free safety Marlon McCree at first glance.
But look closer at the Jaguars and you'll find that McCree is one of the most productive members of the defense. Last year, McCree was responsible for six interceptions and finished fifth on the team in tackles with 56. Not bad for a former seventh-round pick out of Kentucky.
This year, the Jaguars added a new head coach in Jack Del Rio and three big names on defense. The team has a new lease on life in the NFL, says McCree, who took some time to talk about video game strategy, rookie QB Byron Leftwich and the Jaguars then and now.
Where are you right now?
McCree: I'm in Jacksonville. I'm here pretty much year-round. I'm from Orlando, so I'm either here or there.
The Jaguars added linebackers Mike Peterson and Keith Mitchell, along with DE Hugh Douglas. As a part of this defense, you have to be loving the changes.
McCree: Yeah, it's really going to help the team overall. We've gotten so much better and we haven't even played a game yet. The morale is real high right now and guys are real anxious to get out there on the field.
Any funny Hugh stories yet? Corey Simon said he was one of the funniest guys he'd ever met.
McCree: One of the linebackers nicknamed him "Big Surly," that was funny. He's a real good guy and a good sport and we're just having a good time.
How have you taken to coach Del Rio?
McCree: He's a defensive-minded coach, so I like that. This is my first time being on a team where the head coach is more involved in the defense than the offense. That's a nice change for me because the attitude he has is going to rub off on us, and it will help us play as well.
Is that the only difference between him and coach Coughlin?
McCree: I think coach Coughlin was a great coach. Del Rio has played in the league, so obviously he can relate to the players having been there. He's a younger guy and he has a lot of enthusiasm and excitement. Right now, he's treating us like men and giving us the responsibility to do what we need to do. If we're successful, things should do nothing but get better for us. There won't be as many rules, but even with the rules coach Coughlin had, there wasn't anything that really killed us.
There is a little more leniency in the locker room and (fewer guidelines to follow), but overall we still have to go out there and play. Coach Del Rio can be as nice as possible but if we start losing, believe me, it's going to feel like "camp Coughlin."
You led the Jaguars with six interceptions last year. Which one of the six stands out the most in your mind?
McCree: I can't narrow it to one because I think the two I had in Kansas City are tied. We were on the road and it was a big game for us. No one gave us a chance to win. To get two interceptions that put us into scoring position twice, that was big. Those were the most beneficial interceptions I got the team because it led us to victory.
Where can we expect to find Marlon McCree when he's off the field?
McCree: Man, I'm a couch potato. I sit around the house and watch ESPN and all kinds of TV shows like The Real World, Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer. I'm a TV junkie. I like to relax, and I like to spend a lot of time with my family when I am in Orlando.
Would you ever go on a reality TV show like The Real World?
McCree: I wouldn't. I'm more of a reserved individual. I get along with my teammates, but being in an environment where you have to be in a house for six months with five different people, that's tough. It would drive me crazy.
I know you're a video game fan. Do you have a favorite team to play with?
McCree: I use the Jaguars, man. I mean, I'll play with Donovan McNabb or with a lot of other teams, but for the most part, I like to see myself out there.
Do you control Marlon McCree when you're on defense with the Jaguars, or do you pretend you're a lineman or a linebacker?
McCree: Oh yeah, I play as me. Even when I play with a different team, I play with the safeties. I put my corners up to press the receivers and play Cover 2 with my safeties.
Any tips you can pass along, especially to those of us who are clueless as to how to play against the pass?
McCree: You have to play that two-man zone. Have your corners playing man-on-man against receivers so that they can make a play on the ball themselves, and the safeties are just extra defenders. If you just play regular Cover 2 when the opponent needs anywhere from 5 to 8 yards to convert, the cornerbacks will let the receivers go and the safeties will pick up the receivers. But watch out because the guy might see your cornerback squatting, call an audible and go deep on you. The "under man" defense is ideal in long-yard situations because it will take that option away.
Are you the best gamer on the Jags?
McCree: Well, see, I get all my tips from Fred Taylor. He's the best on our team -- he can really play. He's like a king. He would beat me good if we played.
We have a 21-point mercy rule, so if you're down by 21 points, the game is over no matter what quarter the game is in. I've seen Fred beat a guy with the mercy rule with the Texans! They were the worst-rated team in the game last year, obviously because they were an expansion team, and Fred 21'ed a guy with them. He can really play.
Better "Marlon:" Marlon Wayans, Marlon Brando or the Florida Marlins?
McCree: (laughs) Aw man. Well, I'm a big Godfather fan, so I am tempted to say Marlon Brando, but Marlon Wayans is one of the funniest comedians ever. So I don't know ... I'd have to go with The Godfather, Marlon Brando.
And see? Just like everyone else, you forgot about the Florida Marlins!
McCree: Hey, those Florida Marlins have to step it up! They have to get out there and contend for it man. (laughs)
Play DJ: Name three songs that you would want played in the Jaguars locker room before a big game.
McCree: Let's see ... man, that's a good one. I'd play, "All Eyez on Me" by Tupac, "One Mic" by Nas, and "X Gonna Give it to Ya" by DMX.
Finish this sentence: The celebrity I look like the most is ________.
McCree: Ooh. People have told me that I look like Ice Cube, so I'll say him.
Describe the feeling when you signed your first NFL contract. Where were you? Were you shaking?
McCree: I was at Alltel Stadium, signing with the team, and it was very overwhelming. I was happy because I was actually signing my name on the dotted line, and it had always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL. To finally have that come true for me was very, very satisfying. I knew I had to go out there and continue to work and get better, and that's what I've done.
What's the coolest "gadget" you own?
McCree: I'm not a real gadget guy. The coolest gadget I probably have is a laptop or a cell phone. I'm not one of these guys that walks around with like 15 pagers and two-ways and all that stuff. I do have TVs in my truck, and the PlayStation is hooked up to it.
Name your favorite food that you can't get in the city you play in.
McCree: That would be my mother's sweet potato pie. It's really good.
What's the best and worst football advice you've ever received?
McCree: The best is to stay hungry and humble. The worst advice I received was before I got drafted. Someone I know told me to tell NFL scouts that I didn't want to play for a certain team. He was trying to tell me that one of the teams in the league that hasn't experienced much success was going to draft me, so I should have told them that I didn't want to play for them. I said, 'Man, I'll play for anybody if it means playing in the NFL!'
Have you practiced against Leftwich? How close to being NFL-ready is he?
McCree: I have practiced against him. He's about a training camp away. It will dawn on him one day in the near future that he can really play in this league, and then he'll play like he's been here forever.
That's what happens to rookies -- they start off playing real scared and nervous, then they have a little success and try what they did again and it works. They see that their opponents are a little bit bigger and faster, but it's still the same sport. Once that hits him, he will be fine.
Finally, what are your goals for 2003?
McCree: I just want to be playing in January, man. I don't want to be sitting at home; I want to go out there and be one of the few teams that's playing and give our team a chance. If that means getting interceptions, forcing fumbles, playing special teams, whatever I have to do, I feel like I am ready for it.
That's my goal. I've found that once you set your eyes on something big, then all of the personal accolades come. Over a 16-game season, you might not have an interception going into the ninth game, then all of a sudden, you get three. You just keep plugging away, and hopefully your team wins and good things start happening.