More to McClain than meets the eye

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Dallas, TX – When we were interrupted during our World Cup game between USA and Brazil to hear that the Cowboys had made a trade with the Baltimore Ravens for Rolando McClain, nobody seemed to be too interested at the time. Yet as the days keep passing, I seem to have a few thoughts about this former 8th overall pick daily and something inside won’t let it go.

McClain was once the highest touted linebacker in the Draft, went 8th overall to the Raiders, was arguably their best player then ran into a little trouble. He was picked up by Baltimore and never made the most of his opportunity. He’s had numerous arrests and has retired from the NFL twice. Either way, I’m not ready to hang-em up yet with McClain.

Rolando McClain came from a pretty questionable background and a family that seemed more likely to hurt his future than help it. We can’t always be choosers of what type of family we are born into but we can change the perception others have for ourselves. You see Rolando hadn’t seen his father in 16 years when he entered the NFL Draft, but guess who showed up at the most opportunistic time and ruined the Draft experience for the young man?

McClain also returned home sometime later to attend his Grandfather’s funeral, only to find that his entire “family” rented limousines and a fancy funeral just to leave an expensive bill at the feet of Rolando McClain. These are the things that young impressionable athletes find themselves having to deal with once they make it to the professional level of their craft. McClain ended up just buying these folks cars and other extravagant things for them to leave the poor guy alone.

Despite all this, McClain isn’t another story of an athlete-gone-broke, quite the opposite. McClain’s first purchase was hiring a financial advisor who warned him of these types of things. I believe in my heart that McClain has just had a rough go-of-it and sometimes couldn’t control his temper but who can blame him? He seems to be a pretty smart person, in fact the very reason for him leaving the league was because he thought it might bring him peace. You see McClain spoke to ESPN Magazine and felt that he was going down the same path as Aaron Hernandez and that scared the lights out of the young ‘Bama star.

The one thing that has never been questioned and frankly has never died in Rolando McClain is his passion and ability to play this game. When you’re brought down to rock-bottom and believe the only way up is to give up the one thing that gave you happiness then you really need someone to put that into perspective for you. He didn’t hate football, he hated what the fame and fortune brought his way.

At Alabama, there wasn’t a single person who watched more film than McClain other than maybe Nick Saban, but even he testifies to the fact that most days McClain was at the facility before he arrived every morning at 5:45 AM in the film room. He was the literal heart-and-soul of the Crimson Tide, and he behaved in a manner that garnered him respect not only in the locker room but on the field as well.

He has incredible instincts and ability to diagnose an offense which is uncanny. In a 4-3 scheme it is hard to even explain how important the “Mike” linebacker is but that is why so many refer to them as the quarterback of the defense. He’s the type of player that knows his assignments and every other damn players’ as well, he calls the play, reads the offense, calls audibles, reacts and most importantly makes plays.

McClain has been praised by football coaches and scouts alike for his tremendous performance in that National Championship game where he destroyed the Florida offense and gave everyone a sneak-peak at what Tim Tebow was going to amount to in the NFL. If you re-watch that game you will see McClain calling defensive formations and confusing the hell out of the Gator offense. It’s not that he’d audible so much as that he would just make adjustments whilst still disguising coverage and Florida was out of sync all game long.

In the NFL, McClain has had moments with the Raiders that were a perfect example of what he can be and others that left you scratching your head. If we’re honest we can say that the Raiders have struggled a lot in recent memory and that their defense hasn’t been very good. McClain was the bright spot on that defense and I remember watching him play Dallas is the preseason and I came away impressed. I think that Oakland wasn’t a good spot for him because when your the best on a defense that stinks, people just say you stink too.

His trip to Baltimore wasn’t very good either because he just wasn’t given the opportunity to make waves behind Ray Lewis and others that were in line. McClain needed a fresh start and didn’t want to end up on a Practice Squad when he could be starting somewhere else. He was one of the best players to play on a Nick Saban defense which is exactly what brought him to Dallas.

It’s no secret that Jason Garrett and Nick Saban are close friends. Garrett learned under Saban’s wing in Miami and has always been a big proponent for the Alabama program and their coaches especially Saban. You can bet your house that Garrett spoke with Saban before this trade was made. Saban knows what type of player McClain can be and with what price (if any) the Cowboys paid to get McClain to Dallas, it was a no brainer.

Of course Rolando McClain will have an uphill battle to make the roster but the Cowboys need a guy like McClain. If he’s ready to go in Training Camp and can provide anything close to what he’s capable of the it’s safe to say this was a steal for the Cowboys. Garrett has a very similar approach to Saban as a coach and that worked wonders for McClain in the past. Folks, this isn’t some washed up old linebacker who is a stop-gap for the team. This is a formidable insurance policy for Sean Lee if need be, a 24 year old linebacker looking to make his mark. He’s ready for the comeback but if it doesn’t work out, this will be it for him and he knows it.

This former Butkus award winner has all the talent in the world to succeed on the professional level and in Dallas he will be given the opportunity to do so. It was the right fit, the right time to make a move and Cowboys’ fans should be glad that your paying next to nothing for his services and that Jerry didn’t go for another linebacker who was over the hill (i.e. Zach Thomas, Keith Brooking, Urlacher) or some injury prone replacement like Vilma. Instead they get a 24 year old, highly intelligent, high-motored and talented player who gets to work with Rod Marinelli.

Here’s to hoping it all clicks for McClain in Dallas, and if you want someone to root for look no further than this man right here.

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