DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Chris McCain remained at his locker for about an hour after his first NFL contest, still with red eyes from happy tears, still wearing his entire uniform sans for the helmet and cleats.
It had been nearly a year since he played a real game.
And McCain, a Miami Dolphins rookie linebacker, didn’t want the feeling to end.
For the Dolphins to get where they want to go this season, rookies are going to have to play a big role and McCain answered the call in Week 1 by helping Miami pull off a 33-20 win over the New England Patriots. On Monday, the Dolphins (1-0) began switching gears and getting ready for a trip to Buffalo (1-0) this weekend.
"After watching the tape and looking at it closely in all three phases, I think there was obviously a lot of good things," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Monday afternoon.
There were no shortage of players who stood out Sunday. Knowshon Moreno rushed for 134 yards in his Miami debut, Ryan Tannehill threw two touchdown passes and Cameron Wake wreaked plenty of havoc on the outside of the defense. But McCain might have been one of the more unlikely stars, given that he was undrafted and his stock damaged when California kicked him off the team early last season.
He had a punt block to set up Miami’s first touchdown, sacked Tom Brady for a 9-yard loss later in the game and was one of the happier guys in an ecstatic locker room when the day was over.
"The people, they know who they are who doubted me," McCain said. "Now they see who I am and who we are as a team."
The Dolphins — who had 13 rookies on the Week 1 roster, tying a team record — figured McCain was, at worst, a low-risk, high-reward possibility when they brought him in. He’s been impressive ever since, and some around the team needed little time in training camp to think that McCain was an overlooked talent.
With Miami’s linebacker corps already ailing because of injuries, the Dolphins needed him Sunday.
"Yeah, he made an impact in the game," Philbin said. "That’s evident. He had an impact play on special teams. He did a great job, I thought."
McCain was dismissed by California after four games of what would have been his junior season "for conduct detrimental to the team," a year after he was an honorable mention selection on the All-Pac-12 team.
In time, McCain said he got his mind right and started working diligently on the future.
On Sunday, finally, his future was now.
"Is it mindblowing? Yeah, it is mindblowing. It is mindblowing," McCain said. "A lot of people told me I couldn’t be here. … Getting a sack on him felt good. Blocking a punt felt good. Winning a game felt good. Seeing Cam Wake doing what he do felt good. Everybody was just feeding off energy and I was getting energy from a lot of people."
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said he expects McCain to remember Sunday’s effort "for a long time."
"He’s a work in progress," Coyle said. "He’s getting better every week. … It’s pretty amazing to be in your first NFL game as an undrafted free agent, first snap, and block a punt."
Eventually, McCain did take that uniform off.
No need to worry. The Dolphins will give him another one to wear this week. His NFL dreams are suddenly very real.
"I’m just overwhelmed right now," McCain said.
NOTES: The Dolphins are putting LB Danell Ellerbe (hip) on injured reserve and Philbin announced Miami would sign LB Kelvin Sheppard, who has played for Buffalo and Indianapolis. "Danell’s a heck of a player … but that’s part of the game and we move on," Coyle said. It’s not believed Ellerbe will carry the designation that would allow the Dolphins to reinstate him from IR later this season. … Even after scoring 33 points, Miami felt like the offensive showing was a long way from perfect. "We better get better fast, particularly in the passing game," offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said.