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Machota: One-on-one with Will McClay - From standout players to what excites him most about Cowboys

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  • Machota: One-on-one with Will McClay - From standout players to what excites him most about Cowboys

    By Jon Machota Aug 14, 2019

    OXNARD, Calif. ó This yearís training camp has been a much more enjoyable experience than last yearís for Will McClay. The Dallas Cowboysí vice president of player personnel is able to move around without the use of a walking boot on his left foot.

    McClay tore his Achilles tendon a year ago while running and now says heís 85 to 90 percent recovered.

    Those who have suffered the injury feel for anyone in a similar situation, which was the case for McClay when he saw NBA star Kevin Durant injure his Achilles during the NBA Finals.

    ďYeah, automatically (felt for him) because Iíve been through it,Ē McClay said. ďAnd Iíve been through it a time and a half because I did the other one. So when you see it happen, and people donít realize, the Achilles, like I never thought about the Achilles until I blew mine. Itís a tough injury.Ē

    McClay is in his 17th season with the Cowboys. His ascent in Dallasí personnel department began a year after he was the assistant director of pro scouting for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the last seven years, McClay has gone from assistant director of player personnel to obtaining his current role in 2017.

    Heís been an essential part of assembling one of the NFLís most talented rosters, which has led to interest from other teams interested in making him their general manager.

    With the Cowboys only two practices away from ending the California leg of their training camp, The Athletic caught up with McClay to talk about everything from Game of Thrones to players who have caught his eye during camp.

    Here is that conversation.

    The Athletic: What did you do to get away from football for a little bit between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp?

    Will McClay: Well, I watched Game of Thrones because everyone was talking about it. I had never watched an episode of it, and I powered through that during the offseason. And then spending time with my kid and seeing my family. Thatís get-away time. I got to become a better fisherman because my son taught me how to fish.

    Were you disappointed in the final episode of Game of Thrones?

    Nah, I wasnít. I went through the whole deal of calling it Dungeons and Dragons. But it was entertaining. I powered through it.

    What motivates you most at this point in your career?

    Wanting to be part of a team that wins a Super Bowl. Having a piece in it and a hand in it and being a part of something. The biggest thing, to me, is winning. All the work that the guys put in, from the players to the coaching staff to ownership and having a belief. And then having a piece in it and trying to do my best and having a good team to work with, as far as the scouts and them doing their jobs, thatís huge for me. Thatís a team environment, and I love that.

    What excites you most about this current team?

    The opportunity at hand. I get excited about that. Seeing how the young guys mix in with the guys that have been here, and the older guys taking them under their wing. And just that team concept and having a chance to be good. Thatís big.

    Is it the best team since you started working for the Cowboys?

    I donít think you know until the season starts, because itís just like after the draft, people say, ĎOh, you had a great draft or a bad draft.í Well, you donít know until you get them all together. Now, saying that itís a great class or a great group of players, you donít know that until they achieve and we go through and we see. Weíre not a great team until we get to the top spot.

    Who are some players who have caught your eye during camp?

    Offensively, Iíd say (Tony) Pollard has done some really good things. JoníVea Johnson. Brandon Knight kind of showed up and has done some good things. Defensively, weíve had a couple of vet guys that have shown up. Kerry Hyder and Christian Covington have shown up. Trysten Hill is beginning to do some nice things. I think Luke Gifford is popping in and doing stuff. And then Donovan Wilson, too, from a young guy standpoint.

    Can Pollard play all three downs immediately?

    Definitely feels like he can do all of it if he needs to. We saw him as a space player that could probably carry the ball on all three downs, but then for him to come in and pick up protections and do all the things that heís done ó itís a very difficult deal for a running back to come in the NFL and understand protections and understand coverages and understand defenses, why they do things. And heís got a unique way of doing that. He can take it from the board, when youíre drawing it up, to the field. Heís just unique in that way. So itís been really surprising just to see how quickly heís up to speed on things.

    How much more difficult will your job be after Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper take up a large chunk of the teamís salary cap?

    It makes it challenging, but itís a good challenge because we follow the recipe that weíve used to get these young players. Now we have to figure out if we can pay them because they are good enough. Itís just to keep that thing going and trying to find young talent. Everybody wants to have a part in the process. We look at it through free agency, through the end of the preseason cuts, all of that stuff. They are all different parts of the draft for us, so weíve got to find ways to do that because we have good players and thatís just the way the NFL is.

    Whatís the secret to finding a franchise quarterback late in the fourth round, like you guys did with Dak Prescott?

    Itís being lucky. Being lucky, and itís using the experience of all the different people. As scouts, youíre looking for that prototype deal, and then you donít take into consideration the other parts that make a human great. And we were lucky. And Scott Linehan stood on the table for him with how he was. Once we got to know him, everybody kind of felt it a little bit, but you donít know it until you really get him as to how much he can affect the upward growth of an organization and the team.

    Whatís the toughest position to evaluate?


    Whatís the second-toughest?

    Itís probably receiver. Because the way college football is played now, you see these receivers with these great numbers and all that stuff because itís so spread out. Now they come to the league, they donít know how to do the things that we do in the league because of how college football is played. Itís a difficult position.

    You guys are often working out free agent players throughout the year, but we get to see some of those workouts during training camp. Whatís the best thing a player can do in one of those workouts and whatís the worst thing they can do?

    The best thing a guy can do is be in shape, because youíve got to be ready at all times. When we call you, thereís a need. And you need to take advantage of that opportunity. The worst thing a guy can do is be out of shape. Weíre not going to bring someone in here thatís not in shape and not going to be able to learn things and put themselves or other people in harmís way because they are not ready for the opportunity.
    2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion