Marcus McCauley knows exactly what is going to happen Sunday when he takes the field for the Vikings against the Eagles. On one play, Kevin Curtis will be lined up across from him; the next it might be Reggie Brown and his big-play potential.
McCauley is used to it.
The Vikings rookie cornerback, a third-round pick from Fresno State, has become a target of top-notch receivers and opposing offensive coordinators.
"Every week I'm going against [Dallas'] Terrell Owens, [Detroit's] Roy Williams, all those guys," McCauley said. "They don't care that I'm a rookie, nor do I care. It's kind of like, 'Show me what you've got, I'll show you what I've got and we'll go from there.' "
McCauley doesn't hold a starting job -- Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin have them -- but when the Vikings switch to their nickel defense and take a linebacker off the field, McCauley plays the left corner and Winfield, a nine-year veteran, slides into the slot.
Because the Vikings have the fourth-ranked run defense in the NFL and are last against the pass, opponents frequently use multiple-receiver sets and keep them in the nickel.
McCauley has had some rough moments -- he was replaced by Charles Gordon for one series Sunday in Dallas -- but his confidence, outwardly, has not wavered.
"At that position confidence is everything," said Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, a former NFL cornerback. "The good thing is, his confidence hasn't dropped. He really feels he can make plays and we have confidence in him as well. That's why we keep putting him out there. ... We just have to keep putting him out there as long as we believe in him."
Frazier spends time after practice working on developing the 24-year-old's skills. McCauley appreciates the show of support but also feels he is doing the job.
"I don't feel like I'm the reason we're coming up short in these games," he said. "It's a game of professionals. Guys are going to make plays. It's not like I'm out there on the field just completely not doing anything to help the team win. ... I earned the job. I feel like something drastic would have to happen for me to lose the job. There are guys on this team that are capable of taking my position, but I feel like I continue to make progress. They see that and continue to have confidence in me."
Winfield said he knew McCauley was going to play a key role on the team this season and that "we were expecting the world from him."He's held up," Winfield said.
McCauley is sixth on the Vikings with 28 tackles, according to the coaches' film review, and has broken up four passes.
He also should have at least one interception but failed to hang on to a ball that Bears quarterback Brian Griese put in his arms in the fourth quarter of a game two weeks ago with the Vikings leading by 14 points. McCauley was disappointed -- especially after the Bears came back to tie the score before the Vikings won on a last-second field goal.
"I told him to forget it, next play," Winfield said. "You have to move on. You can't even think about it. ... In this league, you grow up real fast."
McCauley's next chance to grow will come when the Eagles put Curtis (29 receptions) and Brown (17 receptions) against him. "This is a week where we are going to need him to make some plays," Frazier said. "Kevin Curtis is a very good receiver, along with their other guys. He's going to be matched up against one of their better receivers at times."
McCauley welcomes the challenge.
"I expect the world out of myself, so regardless of what anybody else expects out of me I'm one of my hardest critics," he said. "If you're in this league you've got to be ready to play at all times regardless of how young you are. Obviously, you can try to use that as an excuse, but I don't."