Chris McCain was one of the stars of the Chargers' offseason program.
Blessed with tremendous speed (a 4.5 40-yard dash) and size (6-5, 236 pounds) for a defensive end, the former Cal product put all his tools to good use as a spring standout.
Still, it's one thing to use those gifts when there's limited contact in shells and shorts.
Everyone wanted to see how McCain would fair when the pads came on in training camp and he took the field in preseason action.
So far, so good.
McCain has taken Chargers Camp by storm, making a name for himself behind Joey Bosa at the LEO position. On the eve the team's first preseason game, Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley sang his praises while noting he wanted to see the same production in the preseason opener.
"(I really like) his length," Bradley said at the time. "He's got really good get-off. We talk about seeing guys run on the field. Every day you see him chase from behind and chase down the field 30 yards. He plays with great effort. But what's intriguing is we're excited (with) what we're seeing here; now we just need to see it on game day."
McCain did just that, turning heads as he finished with a game-high three QB hurries and half a sack. He got in the face of Trevone Boykin, forcing the quarterback to short arm a throw downfield that was picked off by Desmond King.
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dolphins in 2014, McCain appeared in 20 games with Miami and the New Orleans Saints, logging a pair of sacks in limited snaps, before joining the Bolts' practice squad midway through the 2016 campaign. The former Cal product doesn't lack in confidence. In fact, he believes he's always been capable of producing at the level he has this summer.
The biggest difference is he finally has the opportunity to show what he can do.
"This is all I ever wanted," he said passionately. "Just to have a legit chance. I feel like these coaches see a lot in our group. We have a crazy amount of talent in our room. But they are giving me a chance. They are confident in what I can do, so I have a real chance. That is different from the other places I've been. I have a legit opportunity to showcase what I can bring to the team."
McCain also lauded the coaching staff for developing him as a player, especially Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith.
"Coach Giff is the perfect coach for defensive linemen. He takes his time, and isn't the kind of coach who ignores anyone. He coaches everybody. He knows how talented the room is, and he wants everyone to be great. He gets everyone prepared no matter who you are. He isn't selfish or focuses only on certain players. He really pays attention to all our needs."
Equally impressive for McCain is that he's taking a leap forward on the field while learning the LEO position. It's a spot he never lined up in before this offseason.
"It's really a new position," Bradley noted. "We brought him in (there). He was playing outside linebacker for us, and then we just felt the depth that we had there, let's get him over to the LEO spot and see what he can do."
Now that he's gotten a taste of the position, McCain has no desire to ever line up anywhere else.
"It's perfect. I have a lot of freedom on the open side. It's simple. I just read my keys, get off the ball and then it's play ball. Being on the open side, I have the opportunity to show what I can do in the pass-rush. I'm on an island a lot, so I can show my speed and my length. I need to prove that I can do it all. That I can play well against the run, continue to work on my technique and hand placement, and make sure I play the blocks with a low pad level."
Always a pass-rush demon, McCain is most proud of the strides he's taken defending against the run. Again, he cites coaching, confidence and opportunity for helping him make gains in that aspect of the game.
"That's all Coach Giff. I have more confidence in what I'm doing. My techniques are different now. Coach Giff has me using my eyes differently. He points out reading, studying the lineman, looking to see pre-snap indicators; I do a lot of that now. I'm looking down the line like I've never done before trying to figure out stances and how the lineman's hands are when it is pass or run. I'm studying things like that. I have a better understanding of how to break stuff down."