Colt McCoy, the backup’s backup, ‘in a great place’ with Redskins

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There is nothing deceptive in the way Colt McCoy presents himself. He’s tall and lean with static blue eyes, and he gives thoughtful answers to the questions he is asked — a straight shooter in the parlance of Tuscola, Texas, where he first became a football star in high school.

But when he says, “I’m in a great place,” it makes you wonder if there’s more than a bit of wishful thinking at work. Amid a long answer regarding his status as the Washington Redskins‘ third quarterback, those five words are said with the slightest change in effect, the slightest increase in pitch. They are said as if McCoy hopes they will become truer than they are.

The truth is, the place in which McCoy finds himself would be the envy of many — just not a college legend entering the fifth year of an increasingly uncertain pro career.

Linebacker Brian Orakpo, a teammate at the University of Texas, good-naturedly referred to the quarterback as “The Great Colt McCoy” when he walked past at the end of a recent workout in Ashburn. That moniker, though, contains plenty of truth, because McCoy:

is the only four-year starter at quarterback the Longhorns have ever had;

was runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting as a junior;

was third in the Heisman voting as a senior and led Texas to the national championship game;

and finished his career as the winningest quarterback in NCAA history.

Despite that success, McCoy was not considered a top prospect, and his draft stock took an additional hit when he was knocked out on the first series of his final game with a right shoulder injury.

McCoy recovered and entered the NFL in 2010 as a third-round pick of Cleveland, where another injury would significantly alter the course of his career.

With starter Jake Delhomme and backup Seneca Wallace injured, McCoy made his first start in Week 6. He ended up starting eight games as a rookie, throwing six touchdowns and nine interceptions.

McCoy was named the starter in 2011 and played well enough to keep the job as the season progressed. But in a Week 14 loss to the Steelers, he took a helmet-to-helmet hit from James Harrison and was temporarily knocked out of the game. He returned after a brief examination. McCoy subsequently was diagnosed with a concussion, and the incident made further news when his father questioned the Browns medical staff’s handling of the injury.

McCoy has not started an NFL game since. In the 2012 draft, Cleveland selected Brandon Weeden (since released) in the first round. McCoy appeared in one game in 2012. He was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in April 2013, finishing his Browns career with 21 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.

“I have no hard feelings. I know that’s probably a shock for some people to hear that,” McCoy told the Cleveland Plain Dealer upon his exit from the Browns.

The consensus is that McCoy didn’t get a fair shake in Cleveland, but he has consistently declined to say anything negative about his time there.

As the backup to Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco last season, McCoy appeared in four games, but attempted just one pass, which he completed for 13 yards.

McCoy signed with the Redskins on April 3.

“[Coach] Jay [Gruden] brought me in, and I had played against him a couple years when I was in Cleveland and he was in Cincinnati, so I watched [his] offense,” McCoy said. “When I visited here I just connected with him and liked what they were doing.

“I didn’t think about all [the competition]. I just wanted to go to a place where they wanted me and I felt like I would fit in. It just felt right. I ended up not visiting anywhere else and just signed here.”

Given that McCoy’s arrival in D.C. marked his third team in 12 months, it’s understandable that comfort level would be a priority. But comfort and opportunity are often in opposition.

Robert Griffin III is the unquestioned starter, and Kirk Cousins is arguably the most secure backup in the league. Unless there’s an injury, McCoy is stuck at No. 3 on the depth chart, and in today’s NFL, a third quarterback is a luxury that most teams have no interest in once the regular season rolls around.

The combination of McCoy’s career path and demeanor puts him in the unique and conflicting position of knowing what he’s up against while maintaining a positive focus.

“I’ve been in a lot of systems, unfortunately, going into my fifth year,” McCoy said. “This is my fifth system. I really like what Jay brings to the table and like what he’s doing. OTAs are going well and I’m just glad to be here.”

As long as McCoy remains with the Redskins, he is an asset as a veteran presence.

“I love Colt; he’s a great guy,” tight end Logan Paulsen said. “He’s been around a litte bit, so he knows a lot of football and knows what’s going on.”

McCoy has gotten more practice at being a veteran than most fifth-year quarterbacks. In the past three seasons, he’s backed up a rookie, a third-year player entering his first full season as a starter and now, a third-year starter and third-year backup.

He accepts his current role, if a little begrudgingly.

“I’m always competing, no question,” McCoy said, “and that’s what they want me to do. At the same time, being in the position I was last year with Colin, I felt like I helped him as much as I could. I certainly will do the same thing here with Robert. It’s weird to say I’d be the vet in the room at 27, but that is the case right now.”

It’s hard to gauge a player’s mental make-up during June practice in shorts (or sweatpants in McCoy’s case), but while McCoy often hangs back and plays catch to keep warm while Griffin and Cousins run plays with the first- and second-teams, the competitive desire is evident when he gets his chance.

During goal-line drills last Thursday, McCoy lofted a perfect fade to his left that fell into the hands of Aldrick Robinson for a touchdown in the back corner of the end zone. The play elicited a fist pump from the quarterback, a “bull’s-eye!” from the offensive side of the ball and an expletive from the defense.

McCoy also was one of the last players to leave the field, staying behind to talk with Cousins and offensive coordinator Sean McVay about plays that went right and plays that went wrong.

“He’s just trying to get better, just like everybody out here on the field,” Orakpo said. “Everybody knows who Colt McCoy is, but it’s another year and we’re just trying to do the best we can for this team. That’s him working extremely hard, that’s me working extremely hard, anybody. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, we’re trying to reach that ultimate goal.”

Orakpo, of course, is talking about the Super Bowl. But in the dog days of June, there are other goals that take precedence. For McCoy, his primary goal is to be prepared for the next day’s practice. The short-term goal is to learn the offense, and the long-term goal is to find his way back onto an NFL field as a starter.

“All quarterbacks, any position they’re in, want to be playing,” McCoy said. “So that drive and that passion that is still there for me. I’m in a great place. We’ve got a great quarterback in Robert, a great quarterback in Kirk and great coaches in Sean and Jay, so I’m learning a lot. I feel confident, and I’m just going to approach it one day at a time.”

The truth is, that’s all he can do.

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