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How chess and Brandon Marshall prepped Jets' Dexter McDougle for possible breakout year


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How chess and Brandon Marshall prepped Jets' Dexter McDougle for possible breakout year


Dexter McDougle put in lots of work this offseason. (John Munson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Dexter McDougle put in lots of work this offseason. (John Munson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

FLORHAM PARK -- Between team periods Tuesday at Jets practice, cornerback Dexter McDougle jogged to the sideline, buzzing with excitement. 

"Ain't this [expletive] fun?" he asked corner Derrick Jones, as McDougle recalled later. 

For McDougle lately, this sure is, at long last. Gone are his dark days of rehabbing injuries and wallowing on the practice squad. Now, he is slimmer, faster, more confident. Entering his fourth NFL season, a contract year, the former third-round draft pick has renewed resolve. 

And his journey back here to fun football began with a chess board, of all things. 

As he fights for a role in this training camp -- and gets regular encouragement from ex-Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall -- McDougle's goal is simple, albeit challenging. 

"Make my impact known," he told NJ Advance Media. "Whoever steps in front of me, I just want to dominate them." 

A non-factor for most of his first three seasons, McDougle has impressed so far in camp, through 13 practices and one preseason game. Last Saturday against the Titans, he played 25 snaps with the reserves and broke up three passes. 

The Jets' top three corners are currently Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine, and Juston Burris. McDougle is competing for playing time with Marcus Williams and Darryl Roberts. Is this the year McDougle finally proves why the Jets picked him in Round 3? 

His struggles to date underscore former general manager John Idzik's awful 2014 draft class. Idzik picked 12 players that year. Three remain with the Jets: receiver Quincy Enunwa (injured and out for 2017), backup offensive guard Dakota Dozier, and McDougle.

The Jets' top two picks that year have been busts: safety Calvin Pryor and tight end Jace Amaro. The third, McDougle, has delivered underwhelming results -- zero interceptions and one pass breakup in 20 career games (no starts), after missing his rookie year with a torn ACL. 

The seeds of McDougle's offseason transformation began, rather indirectly, a decade ago. When he got in trouble as a teenager, his father, Dexter McDougle Sr., forced him to sit down and play chess all night. They'd play for hours on Dexter Sr.'s bed. His son's analytical mind and competitive spirit eventually embraced the game. He loved outwitting the old man. 

Years later, at the Jets' training facility, McDougle noticed Marshall playing chess on his phone. "You play chess?" McDougle asked. And so a friendship and mentorship began. The young corner and veteran receiver bonded over hours-long chess games. They still play via an app, now that Marshall is with the Giants.

After last season, McDougle joined Marshall at his gym in Florida and trained there for a month. Marshall told McDougle he had plenty of ability, but suggested McDougle lose weight.

So McDougle poured himself into offseason training. He dropped from 207 pounds to 194. He cut out fried foods and late-night snacking. Never a heavy drinker, he gave up alcohol entirely. He ran and ran and ran some more. 

In the six weeks between mid-June minicamp and training camp, McDougle stayed in northern New Jersey, rather than returning to Virginia to relax and enjoy his mom's rich cooking. He was one of the few players who worked out at the Jets' facility, instead of training elsewhere. McDougle hadn't ever stuck around Florham Park in the summer like this before. 

Some evenings at his apartment, an urge would strike him, and he'd pull on his sneakers. Off he'd go for a two-mile jog -- or to a local park, to run sprints alone. 

"I was just driven by something else," he said. "The big thing for me is I know who I am as a player.

He believes it's not the guy whose body betrayed him so often over the past four years -- a fractured shoulder in 2013 at Maryland, the ACL tear in 2014 camp, a pulled hamstring that sidelined him for most of camp last year. He spent much of last season on the practice squad, playing just six games. He never wants to feel that miserable again. 

"It was a down time for me," he said. "I wasn't taking it very well. It just sucked, man." 

When his teammates saw the new, sleeker McDougle last month, they were stunned. They thought he had some kind of illness. 

"Man, you look sick," they said, as McDougle recalled. 

Quite the opposite. He learned to control his body. He drinks more water, because he thinks dehydration caused his pulled hamstring last year. He spends more time in the trainers' room before and after practice, rolling out his legs to limber up, soaking in hot and cold tubs to heal. 

"I've figured out my body," he said after Tuesday's practice. "I felt like I was flying today." 

Corner Buster Skrine said McDougle is showing two important signs of a confident corner: He "trusts his speed" more now, and is "more patient." Jets coach Todd Bowles said McDougle appears "finally comfortable," partly because of his physical conditioning. It's also because of his chess player's mind, always analyzing. 

"What have you been doing up to this point that hasn't been working?" he asked himself earlier this offseason. "You need to change that." 

He did. All those summer sacrifices -- not seeing his friends, family, or girlfriend as much, while he stayed in New Jersey -- are beginning to pay off. And his old chess partner has noticed. 

Marshall was a polarizing figure in the Jets' locker room, but McDougle still values their friendship. They regularly exchange text messages, along with chess moves on a phone app.

After McDougle excelled against the Titans, Marshall texted him, saying he looked good. McDougle sends Marshall updates on his weight and body fat. Marshall tells McDougle he envisions a breakout year for him.

For McDougle, it's about time. He is tired of being an afterthought. 

"I think my peers are starting to notice," he said. "I just know who I am, and I know why I was brought here. I never lose sight of that. I wanted to make a statement when I came out this year, and I want to keep doing that. I want them to know I'm here and I'm ready to compete." 


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1 hour ago, jetscrazey said:

...until he gets injured again.  Sorry for being a doubter but the guy just seems brittle and an injury waiting to happen.  We're not even to the 2nd preseason game and this idiot journalist is already claiming things to be different.

''Tis the season for fluff pieces about marginal players.   Last year it was mauldin and  amaro.  

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Kid's had a good camp so far. The fact that he's lost weight is a little concerning injury-wise, but it seems to be working for him. Love to see him take time away from Skrine. It may not be a breakout year, but it is a contract year - a make or break year. I'm sure he's motivated. 

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Kid's problem has always been injuries.  Less weight and more endurance shouldn't hurt, since I don't think he's had contact injuries in the NFL.  His rookie year, reports were that he was the best CB on that team, not saying much, but still.  He will probably be a monster this year.  He is unrestricted next year, what could be Jet-ier than that? 

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I never understood players that needed 3 years and a pep talk from a guy like Marshall to realize they needed to eat right and train harder. Some of these guys aren't even qualified to bag groceries. With that said, at least with Dexter it appears to have finally clicked. With Burris questionable and Claiborne injury prone he will get his chances to show off his ability. 

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2 hours ago, Smashmouth said:

when something positive like this is posted it should be something to feel good about rather than posting negative crap. The Jets are due for some good stories for once... hopefully this kid figured it out and can move forward and play well.

Yeah. He was an easy kid to like from the draft profile back then. I forget what offhand, but his school named a best teammate award after him for the way he handled himself after getting sidelined for almost his entire senior season like a game or two in.

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1 hour ago, Copernicus said:

Legendary leader and player at Maryland. Encouraging, after disappointing years with injuries, that he may become the player we expected

Followed him at Maryland as well. He has had real bad luck with injuries but I always hope he would figure it out. Wish the kid nothing but luck for this contract year and hope he gets a nice second contract from a team that needs DBs.

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23 hours ago, drsamuel84 said:

Hearing a lot of good things about McDougle and not to get ahead of ourselves but if he keeps it up wouldn't mind seeing them try to move Skrine for a pick

Skrine is a good player in the Nickel defending the slot he also plays well in the interior position and makes some nice tackles. Moving him around as much as the Jets did last year is not going to turn out well hes much better playing inside than he is outside. This fits him well because hes much Quicker than he is fast.

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good for him.  i don't care if it is a fluff piece.  mcdougle deserves a break if only for stickin around.  he wouldn't be here at all unless bowles saw something in his game, attitude, etc. and if he makes the final cut then lets hope he can get on the field and produce.

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