IRVING, Texas – When special teams coach Joe DeCamillis did an extensive look at LSU's special teams before the draft two years ago, he actually had another player on his radar.
Yet, this No. 44 kept showing up. Before too long, DeCamillis inquired about this mystery player, who happened to be Danny McCray, who really wasn't a mystery to the scouting department.
The Cowboys knew of him as a special teams player but didn't figure him to be much more than that, considering he wasn't a starter at LSU.
Fast forward three seasons later, and here is McCray, who is not only the special teams captain and DeCamillis' best coverage player, but he's about to start his second straight game Monday night against the Bears.
And if things go as well as they did last week in his starting debut against Tampa, this very well could be McCray's position for the rest of the season, now that Barry Church is on injured reserve with a torn Achilles injury.
Others might be surprised by McCray's emergence now on defense, but he isn't.
"Nah, not really because I always had confidence in myself," McCray said. "It's one of those things where you have to believe in what you do. All you need is an opportunity to show everyone else."
He's getting that opportunity right now. Last week, McCray started for Gerald Sensabaugh, who missed the game with a calf strain but will return this week. McCray slides over to replace Church at strong safety, a more natural position.
Head coach Jason Garrett admitted McCray was viewed as more of a special teams player when he arrived on the scene before the 2010 season as an undrafted rookie. But after two seasons of spot duty on defensive sub-packages as a hybrid linebacker and strong safety, McCray has impressed Garrett and the staff and has gained their confidence.
"He's improved a lot. I think his arc is a little bit like Barry Church's arc," Garrett said. "He's a guy who came in here as a free agent and did more than probably any of us expected him to do and earned a spot on our team because of his special teams' ability and really emerged as a leader there. And then has shown an ability to play on defense, particularly on third down as a dime guy down in the box. But over the last couple of years has developed as a guy who can play in the back end as well. He's a really good football player and goes about it the right way. We love how he plays and he's grown with each opportunity he's gotten to play on defense."
The question now is how much the Cowboys will get to use McCray on special teams.
Last week, McCray was on the kickoff coverage unit but has moved to the outside, where he is more of a safety that stays back near the boundary. With Chicago's always-dangerous Devin Hester coming to town the week, the Cowboys can't afford to lose their best guy.
"I think I'll still be involved," McCray said on special teams. "I've tried to prove that I'm more than (just a special teams player), but I still like it and it's what I do. So I want to be able to find a balance there."