Florham Park, NJ – Last year, on September 14th, Dexter McDougle had two interceptions to help the Terrapins beat Connecticut 32-21. Later in that same game McDougle suffered a season-ending shoulder injury when he went to make a tackle.
“Dexter was playing as good as he’s played since I’ve been here.” Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said after the game according to ESPN.com’s Andrea Adelson, “It’s just sad that this happened to him.”
After nine long months of healing, rehabbing and simultaneously training for the NFL McDougle finally got clearance to ditch the red non-contact jersey for the first time with the Jets and he was absolutely giddy with delight.
“Since September my focus has been just to get healthy and to get back as fast as I can, just get the mental reps (while recovering) and just know what I’m supposed to do. I’ve been real patient up until this point. Then when I came in here and there was a green jersey hanging up, I was just real happy.” McDougle said while flashing a giant smile, “All of the guys were like, ‘Oh, he’s out of the red, he’s out of the red.’ So it was just a really good time today. I’m happy and it will keep getting better from here.”
McDougle was clearly thrilled to get clearance to play, as were his teammates, but just as thrilled was Rex Ryan.
“Yeah. That was his first day that he’s had the green jersey on. That was good. I’ll tell you, I called him out in front of the whole team, I thought it was impressive. Here’s a kid that’s been learning those 80 plays on defense, yet really hasn’t been able to go through anything.” Ryan said, “Today we put him out there and to his credit, he should get the most credit and then it’s obviously (defensive backs coach) Tim McDonald, (assistant defensive backs coach) Brian Smith and (defensive coordinator) Dennis Thurman should get some credit as well (having) done a great job with teaching this young man. He’s done the tough part. He’s got to sit there and pay attention knowing he can’t get on that field and then take it out there today. I know he was excited to finally get that green jersey on.”
McDougle said he’s shoulder feels, “great,” but he’s still working on building up his strength in his shoulder. He’s leaned on teammate Dee Milliner, and an old college teammate who also had a similar shoulder injury, for advice on how to handle working through mental reps while dealing with the frustration of not being out on the field. The fact that the coaching staff threw the entire 80 play playbook at him right from the jump didn’t bother him at all.
“I just stuck to what I’ve been coached to do and what I’ve been seeing on film. Just studying the guys and just studying the techniques. So, I just did that and I was pretty successful for the first day.” McDougle said, “Like I said I just want to keep getting better from here on out, but yeah they definitely threw me into the fire today.”
The knock on McDougle has been that he’s injury prone, but that’s a bit misleading. Before McDougle suffered the season-ending shoulder injury last year he had started 27 straight games. The only other injury he had in college was during a scooter accident where he broke his collarbone in the offseason. Still many teams had injury concerns with him, which is why the Jets were able to grab him in the third round, and Ryan himself admitted he had his reservations until John Idzik and Dennis Thurman convinced him otherwise.
“I saw him that way a little bit, but the confidence of John (Idzik) and of Dennis Thurman in particular, that kind of eased my little doubts, if you will. They were adamant about it. Because I was like, ‘Man, he only played three games and the competition wasn’t like he was playing Clemson (joking).’ But we saw that tape the year before. You have it, but man he looked great on the tapes.” Ryan said,” And then you go back and the year before you see a lot of those things. And then you find out, you do a little digging, our scouts did a tremendous job, and they had him as one of their top character players in the entire draft. And being around this young man now, you see where that’s coming from.
“Well, the first time he (Dennis Thurman) watched the tape, he came and got me. He was like ‘oh I got the guy right here.’ So of all the corners, he was certainly up there with all of them. He fits us, (he) can play press, (he’s) smart. Those two things, you always talk about factors when (you) talk about grading corners, can you find the football and can you catch it, he can do both. He’s physical, unfortunately when he damaged his shoulder it was on a physical play, but again he shows flashes that he can be an all-around type corner.”
Yesterday in his first practice you saw the physicality immediately and in the locker room after practice we heard the high-quality character that Ryan was talking about. The coaching staff didn’t go easy on McDougle, there was no dipping of the toes in the pool, no easing into the playbook they threw everything at him and they kept sending him out for more reps. First team, second team it didn’t matter just go out there, left side, right side, off coverage or press coverage he was everywhere.
On one play he lined up outside against Jace Amaro and though it was OTA’s and technically press coverage isn’t “allowed,” McDougle might’ve gotten a little ahead of himself as he hit Amaro with a stiff arm to the chest jamming him at the line and bumping him off his route. Sure he caught Amaro off guard so he kind of cheated, but the coaching staff didn’t care they were just excited that he hit the ground running.
McDougle stressed over and over again how happy he was to be able to practice and put the mental reps to use on the field, he talked about needing to shake off the rust, but most importantly he talked about the two or three mistakes he made and how eager he is to correct those mistakes.
“I just went out there and played. I had, probably, a few mistakes out there, two or three mistakes, but all in all I’m just happy with the day. Just getting out there and being able to run around and I feel I did pretty good today, for the most part.” McDougle said, “We’ll get it coached up. This one time I didn’t do what I was supposed to do so, it’s stuck in my head. I’m about to go watch it on film and get it right the next time.”