Despite completing four weeks of OTAs and mini-camp practices, several things remain unsettled for the Cowboys. When the team reports to training camp on July 28 in Oxnard, Calif., several questions still need answers.
The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rob Phillips, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – will attempt to answer these questions before the start of training camp.
We learned last week that Rolando McClain is set to serve a four-game suspension to start the 2015. In light of that, today's questions focuses in on the all-important Mike linebacker spot. What's the best way for the Cowboys to handle that position while facing McClain's absence?
12) How does Rolando McClain's suspension change the prospects at middle linebacker?
Nick Eatman: Before free agency began, I was on the fence about re-signing McClain and actually leaning toward letting him go. Great player when we wants to be but we all saw last year it wasn't every snap. So with that being said, I don't think the Cowboys should spend a lot of time with him trying to get him ready. He's proven that he's more unreliable than he is talented. At this point, whatever he gives you is a bonus. But the tricky part is handling the reps at camp, which is designed to get players ready for the season. So every rep McClain gets, it's taking away from Brinkley and Hitchens. I just don't think the Cowboys can afford to get multiple MIKE linebackers ready for the season. So I wouldn't put McClain out with the first-team every time. Maybe a couple of times here and there but if this team thinks Brinkley is the guy to start in the middle, then he needs the majority of reps in practice to get him ready for those first four games. If McClain comes back ready to play, then that's a problem Rod Marinelli will be happy to handle.
Rob Phillips:Head coach Jason Garrett has said Greg Hardy will get plenty of preseason work before he begins his league suspension that is still in the appeal process. The expectation for Hardy, of course, is he'll slide right into the starting lineup at right defensive end whenever he's eligible. If the Cowboys still envision Rolando McClain as their starting middle linebacker when his four-game league suspension ends, it's only logical that he too would get a high number of training camp and preseason reps. Considering he missed all of OTAs and minicamp due to a knee scope, I would think McClain could use all the work he can get. However, it's a fine line for the coaching staff to walk. Jasper Brinkley did a nice job at middle linebacker in preseason, and if Anthony Hitchens becomes a candidate at the Mike, the team needs to get the second-year veteran ready. It might make most sense to work the replacement(s) with the first-team defense and get McClain a bunch of work with the other groups, with some first-team reps mixed in.
Bryan Broaddus: If there was ever a player that was a work in progress, it was Rolando McClain, and I feel that this staff has to be careful in how they handle his suspension. His reliability and stability have been proven to be inconsistent at best. It will be critical for McClain to feel like he has the support, not only from the coaches, but his teammates as well. If he doesn't feel that, especially in training camp, there is a great chance that those four weeks off to start the season will put him in a poor mindset once he returns -- and that is the last thing that this defense needs. It's a delicate balancing act in giving McClain enough work to stay engaged but also get Jasper Brinkley ready as that next man up. I believe that you will see the staff treat McClain like he is the starter and give him the majority of the snaps in practice and the preseason like they did with Orlando Scandrick when he went through the same situation. Brinkley is a veteran player that won't need many snaps to play and will be ready when his number is called after the coaches take care of McClain.[embeddedad0]
David Helman:For once, I'm going to be the optimistic person, since I don't see Rolando McClain's suspension being a big deal. Obviously, you'll want to give Jasper Brinkley and probably Anthony Hitchens some first-string reps, since McClain has to sit out for a month. But I view McClain as the preferred starter, even with the suspension. This also takes some pressure off him as he recovers from his knee surgery in the spring, so I'd let him ease into practice – but I certainly thinks he needs to be playing first-string reps and getting plenty of time in the preseason. When he comes back in October, I'd plug him right into the lineup. Hopefully a month of rest will have him as healthy and prepared as possible, because we all know the type of difference he can make when he wants to. McClain stands to make $93,000 for every game he plays this year, so I think he'll be plenty motivated to make a difference. The suspension isn't ideal, but I'd still be trying to maximize what I can get out of McClain while he's still under contract. And I certainly wouldn't be trying to cut him.
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