From being a surprise starter as a redshirt freshman last season to playing on a loaded defensive line unit in 2018, McCarthy continues to evolve his game to stay atop the depth chart and behind the line of scrimmage.
McCarthy is up to 220 pounds after playing at 205 last season, helping him become a better run-stuffer to go along with his impressive pass rushing acumen.
“The weight is going to help me with the power.” McCarthy said. “I already had the speed so gaining weight really helped me,”
His athletic gifts are indisputable, but McCarthy’s technique is what sets him apart from other defensive linemen. The sophomore pass rusher bends low on the edge and swings his arm upward with a deadly rip move, making it difficult for offensive tackles to reach down and get their hands on his chest plate.
The rip is one of many moves in McCarthy’s repertoire, and being able to use those different methods to get to the quarterback keeps offensive tackles on their toes.
“You can’t use strength all the time, so I use a lot of technique.” McCarthy said.
By the time the ball is snapped, McCarthy seems to already be in backfield thanks his to tremendous get off. His lightning quick first step when rushing the passer makes it difficult for offensive tackles to adjust to the move he makes. McCarthy takes advantage of their uncertainty and often leaves his match-ups in the dust before they can get their hands on him.
The defensive line was FAU’s strength this spring, and McCarthy thinks the ability to rotate first and second teamers will allow him to stay fresh throughout all four quarters without losing on-field performance.
“When we are on the field everybody is a one,” McCarthy said.
That depth is a double-edged sword; it will keep McCarthy fresh, but he now must fend off snaps from great competition behind him.
Coach Lane Kiffin is aware of that competition but knows it will be hard to keep McCarthy’s blazing speed off the field.
“We have got some really good pass rushers and he is the fastest of all them,” Kiffin said.
FAU used McCarthy’s speed in more than his usual defensive end spot this spring. Defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro experimented McCarthy at linebacker, a position the athletic pass rusher never manned before.
Despite his lack of experience at linebacker, McCarthy’s learning curve might have been smaller than expected. He said his time dropping in coverage from his defensive end spot last season gave him an idea of what to expect in that new position.
McCarthy’s dual threat ability to both rush the passer and drop in coverage will keep opposing offenses guessing next season.
“They see me as a pass rusher so when I go in coverage they are not really going to expect it,” McCarthy said.
The athleticism and versatility McCarthy flashed this spring is nothing new to Kiffin, as he said the “dynamic pass rusher” brought the same high level of play last season.
Not many expected McCarthy to make as much of an impact as he did last season. He attributed his freshman success and its carryover into a strong spring to one trait: his will.
“I wanted it.” McCarthy said. “My teammates counted on me, so I had to show up.”