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 first-round borderline prospect who had plenty of great flashes on tape while applying his craft in the ultra-competitive SEC, but many expected the Titans to use this selection on the offensive side of the ball. McCreary’s infectious tenacity and energetic style of play will quickly make it clear to Titans fans that McCreary was a great pick going into the second round. McCreary looks set to play a big role in Tennessee’s defense in 2022.
McCreary recently spoke exclusively with Broadway Sports about his first taste of NFL action at Organized Team Activities (OTA), how he’s currently fitting into Tennessee’s young but talented high school, playing both the outside cornerback and the nickel, his performance against Alabama, playing man coverage, his ball skills, and much more.
JM: You received your first taste of the NFL throughout rookie minicamp and Organized Team Activities (OTA). What was your main takeaway?
RM: I realized it was a whole new learning process. Getting into the league is a different beast. I had to learn from the older guys, especially the pace of workouts and the playbook. Now that I’m here, the whole system and pattern is something new for me to learn. It’s not a system you learn in college, for example. Your daily routine is also extremely important. Establishing the right routine can help you have a successful practice and even a successful career. It is always routine.
JM: Did you have a “Welcome to the NFL” moment?
RM: It’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 to get ahead of the group. Players have asked me too. It’s something they always do with rookies. This is the first experience that really caught my attention.
JM: It’s funny. You have joined an extremely talented secondary. There’s a great mix of veterans and rising defenders. How do you see yourself fitting in?
RM: I don’t really have the answer to that question yet. I just come 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 who have experience and I’m just learning from them. I don’t know how everything is going to turn out in terms of my role or what position I’m going to play. I just try to help the team while learning from my teammates.
JM: You mentioned veterans. Are there one or two veterans who really took you under their wing in the OTAs?
RM: A lot of them did. I learned from almost everyone. I can’t make out one or two guys who took me under their wing. I had productive conversations with everyone in our room. I went around asking about games and playing different positions. Outside corners, nickel defenders, they were all extremely helpful while I was looking for pointers. They all helped me no matter what. I can’t single out one particular person. The old bosses, the real veterans, I learned so much just by watching how fast they play. They know the playbook and the system perfectly, so there is no hesitation with them. I’m trying to get that full experience while accelerating myself.
JM: I understand that you are still learning how to 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 played multiple positions at rookie minicamp and OTAs and enjoyed them all. They used me in different ways and I didn’t like one position more than another. I don’t know what position I will play. I just want to help the team in any way I can. I want to be on the pitch no matter what. The rest will work out in due time. Wherever the coaching staff tells me to play, that’s where I’m going to line up and play. It is not a 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 like. 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 would like to say that this 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 beginning to understand their training methods. I thought we were very good with each other. I learned a lot about how they communicate and act on this visit. I loved everything about this visit, both on and off the pitch.
JM: Pro Football Focus gave you a coverage rating of 92.7. This ranked first among all Power Five cornerbacks since 2019. Did you feel you had enough respect going into the draft?
RM: I wouldn’t say I got enough respect, because there were a lot of people trying to put holes in my game or whatever. I didn’t get enough respect, but honestly, I don’t care anyway. I don’t care if a stranger respects me or not. I just know that when I’m on the pitch, I’ll prove people wrong. That’s always been my mentality. I have never lived, or played the game to satisfy others. I always wanted to be the best version of Roger McCreary possible. I want to prove that I’m right.
JM: I love your approach. When people were talking about you as a prospect, it’s impossible to ignore the Alabama game. They targeted you 18 times and you put some amazing stuff on tape. How was it to be in the zone for this game?
RM: I was really in the zone for this game. It was actually my last college game. I feel like I’m 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. It was one of my goals. As a kid from Mobile, Alabama, I grew up idolizing the Iron Bowl. It’s a massive game.
If you’re from Alabama like me, you know what that means to people. It’s Auburn versus Alabama. It is explicit. That this game marks my last college appearance, in the Iron Bowl, was amazing. Even though we didn’t reach our goal, I felt like I played a great game. I don’t regret anything about this game or this experience. I am happy to have ended my university career in this way.
JM: It was really special. You did a lot of press at Auburn. The Titans love to play the men’s cover. What do you like about playing press?
RM: I feel like media coverage is the basis of day one to play cornerback. You have to play the media coverage, period. You must be able to handle a one-on-one mission against your man. You can also play around with the media coverage, that’s another option, but that media coverage is an old school classic in my book (laughs). Playing media coverage at a high level can showcase the real dog in a cornerback. If you can play press in this league, you can become a great cornerback.
It’s something we definitely did at Auburn. They loved playing media coverage. We did that from the start. I think being able to play media coverage is one of my strongest traits as a player.
JM: It shows on tape. I liked what you said about being a dog. You are very physical and aggressive in the cinema. How did you develop this state of mind as a player?
RM: I’m not going to lie to you, it didn’t happen overnight. I was not an aggressive corner from the first moment I started playing for a corner. I had to learn that along the way. When I started, it was a difficult experience (laughs). I will also say that even now you can’t just be physical with every receiver you come across. It depends. My approach can change from game to game. You have to get to work. You can’t guess when reading media coverage. I had a lot to learn and I am still learning today. It was a great experience for me. I had to learn a lot before entering the league.
JM: Speaking of which, how do you approach a bigger, more physical receiver differently than a smaller, more offbeat receiver?
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. I feel like I still have the advantage because I have quick feet and am faster than most receivers I meet and can change direction better than them. Coming into the league, I know I will be up against a lot of receivers bigger than me. I will always stay on top of my game and work on my techniques. I know I can compete with anyone because I always welcome a challenge.
JM: You’ve totaled more than 30 pass breakups in your last three seasons. People will talk about your height and length, but these 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 this dog mentality. I always want to get the upper hand over my opponent. It’s on a snap-by-snap basis. It’s my state of mind. I approach each rep with my best foot forward and I always want to play my best. I want to cover and turn off receiver #1 no matter what. I don’t care if he’s faster, bigger, whatever, I approach every rep with that dog mentality. I play with the same mindset against all types of receivers. This is the result I expect. This approach led to passing passes and so on.
JM: It’s great, Roger. We appreciated your time today. In closing, what are your goals as we head into training camp?
RM: I start with the basics. I just want to go out there 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 go on the field and play football. That’s all I want to do. It’s my state of mind.