August 25, 2017

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Dexter McDougle knows what people have been saying about him during the last few years, and he refuses to let any of it get to him.

Some label the New York Jets cornerback a disappointment, a guy who can't stay healthy, or even worse: a bust.

McDougle has been written off before by doubters, and he has always bounced back. He's fully prepared to do it again.

''I don't get mad at them,'' McDougle said after a recent practice. ''Everybody has their opinion. They don't really know me and they're not really in the building. The people that know my work and what I do, they know what I bring to the table.''

Coming out of Maryland in 2014, McDougle was considered a terrific playmaker and leader. Injuries have plagued him his first three NFL seasons, but he's determined to change all that.

With an impressive training camp and solid performances in the first two preseason games, a noticeably trimmer and stronger McDougle has been one of the Jets' most pleasant surprises this summer. He dropped 14 pounds and 6 percent body fat since last season, working out harder than he ever has and following a strict diet.

''I know why I was brought here,'' he said. ''I wasn't brought here just by chance. I wasn't brought here just by luck. I worked hard and I put a lot of work in to be here, and there's a reason I'm still here. I just want people to realize that. Just keep watching my film and keep seeing what I do. I'm confident in my game and I have a lot of fun doing it.

''I think you can see the passion when I'm out there on the field. I've never taken it for granted. I just want to keep it going.''

But that's been the problem for the 26-year-old McDougle, dating to his senior year of college when he missed all but three games because of a severe shoulder injury. The Jets still liked him enough to take him in the third round, but he never played as a rookie after tearing a knee ligament.

Last summer, McDougle was sidelined for much of camp because of a pulled hamstring. He was among the Jets' final cuts, and New York then signed him to its practice squad.

''Last year was tough,'' he said. ''That wasn't what I was expecting going into training camp. Reflecting back on that now, that's just somewhere I don't want to be again. And, I'm going to make sure I don't.''

McDougle was promoted to the active roster last November and played in six games, but finished with one tackle on defense. In 20 career games, he has just seven total tackles and one pass defensed.

That's where the criticism comes in, and he understands it. That's why he used the offseason to do some soul searching.

''You just look yourself in the mirror and you're like, `What do you want to be? Who do you want to be? What do you want to be remembered as?'" McDougle said. ''So, for me, I know everything that's led up to this point is not what I wanted, so I've got to make a change in myself.''

He spoke to the team's nutritionist as well as the trainers and strength staff, and deduced that his hamstring issues could be attributed to not keeping himself well-hydrated.

McDougle also watched what he ate more closely; instead of giving in to the temptation of going home to Virginia to chow down on his mother's Filipino cooking, McDougle stayed in New Jersey to work out with fellow cornerback Juston Burris. He also developed a friendship the last two years with wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who told him he thought he was a good player who just needed to get his weight in check. Marshall invited him to his training facility in Florida so the two could work out together.

The results have been noticeable, and Marshall - now on the Giants - has texted McDougle to let him know what he's seen.

''He was like, `This is your year and now it's time to make some plays,''' McDougle said. ''And, yeah, it is. Now I've just got to keep it up.''

In the Jets' first two preseason games, McDougle has two tackles and four passes defensed. He also plays special teams, which should help his cause.

When camp started, it appeared he would be on the roster bubble. Now, McDougle is making a push for an even larger role.

''Dexter came in here in great shape,'' defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson said. ''He's running around and taking the techniques and fundamentals that we talk about every day and he's putting it on the field. He's getting good results.''

While dealing with the injuries and growing criticisms, McDougle never considered walking away from the game. And even if he had thought about it, the encouraging emails and texts he regularly receives from friends and family, and even those from high school kids who tell him he's their inspiration, have always snapped him right back.

Giving up was not an option.

''I think about all of that and I'm like, `Man, I can't quit, I can't let that get to me. I've just got to keep working,'' McDougle said. ''So, that's what I do. It's taken some time to realize what my body needs for me to perform to the best of my ability.

''But I know that when I am performing and I am on the field, I'm going to be lights out.''

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