IRVING, Texas –Having missed all of the OTA practices this summer, veteran linebacker Rolando McClain was a welcomed sight when he arrived for minicamp this week.
While he didn't do much on the first day and likely won't even get into team drills at all this week, McClain's presence is good enough – for now – to satisfy his coaches and teammates.
"Well, it's great to have him back," linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said. "We've spent two and a half years building a relationship with 'Ro,' and we love Rolando and want what is best for him. To me, he looks good. He knows he's got to work to get himself ready. He understands the work he has to put in."
McClain is listed at 255 on the Cowboys' official roster, but looked a bit heavier than last season. Head coach Jason Garrett didn't comment on the shape McClain was in, but instead focused on him being at Valley Ranch after spending most of the summer in Alabama dealing with family matters.
"Like we've talked about with Rolando, he had a family situation he was working through," Garrett said. "The offseason program in the NFL is voluntary. There are three mandatory days this minicamp. So again, we're in conversations with him about that situation he was working through."
McClain, who didn't speak to reporters on his first day back, spent most of the practice time working with the strength and conditioning coaches. During team drills, he did stand on the sidelines, giving himself a front-row look at the action.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said McClain will get better by simply being here and attending the walk-throughs, although capturing the speed of the game isn't easy unless he's on the field.
"You want everybody to work. That's how you continue to get better," Marinelli said. "And probably the biggest thing is thinking and reacting under duress. That's something that is hard to recreate, the tempo and pace of a practice. Most people know what to do, few do it though under crunch time. So, it's about creating those environments."
But as Eberflus pointed out, simulating football through meetings and walk-throughs isn't the real thing.
"Football movement is different than other movement," Eberflus said. "He understands the benefit. There's nothing like football to get ready for football."[embeddedad0]
To his credit, McClain has shown the ability to step in and shine rather quickly. In 2014, he came out of retirement to join the team before training camp and ended up starting at middle linebacker for most of the year. Last season, he returned from a four-game suspension by the NFL and had an effective debut against the Patriots, recording a sack on Tom Brady.
The Cowboys got to see McClain and Sean Lee on the field together last season, but are hoping a second year together will provide an even more cohesive group.
Currently, Lee isn't practicing as he continues to rehab a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery back in late April.
Lee said after a disappointing 4-12 season, the Cowboys need all of their top players, including McClain, to be on board to help turn things around.
"It's nice to have everybody here working toward it, and we don't have room to flinch," Lee said. "We've got to find a way to be a better football team. It starts now. (But McClain) is doing a great job. He was out there running today. I think by training camp, both of us will be ready and ready to have a great season."
But until then, the jury will remain out, especially on McClain. Even his defensive coordinator said it's impossible to gauge his progress.
"You just can't. He hasn't had any practices, so there's nothing to evaluate," Marinelli said. "You just have to get ready for camp and ready to roll."