OXNARD, Calif. – Rolando McClain is expected to get some work in Thursday with the team before heading back home to Alabama briefly for legal obligations.
McClain is due to appear in court Friday on charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct stemming from an incident in April 2013, but head coach Jason Garrett doesn't anticipate McClain missing much time.
"We think he's going to be involved tomorrow and then handle something in Alabama on Friday and back to work over the weekend," Garrett said.
McClain could end up playing a vital role on the Cowboys' defense as the team searches for an answer in Sean Lee's absence. Garrett's infatuation with McClain, a former Alabama linebacker for head coach Nick Saban, began before the defender became the Raiders' No. 8 overall pick in 2010.
"I'm excited about Rolando McClain," Garrett said. "Obviously, he played for Coach Saban at Alabama, and I went down there, I think it was maybe 2009, and he was a sophomore I believe at the time. I can remember being there for spring practice and Coach Saban just talking about how much he liked this kid, this big middle linebacker that he had, and he literally said to me at the time, 'He might be one of the best players I've ever coached.'
"When a guy like that says that, he's been around as long as he has and had so many good players, it kind of gets your attention. So I can remember watching him in college and certainly we evaluated him very closely coming out. He was a top 10 pick by the Raiders when he came out of school and someone who has an immense amount of ability, but more than that, production."
McClain was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year for one of the best college defenses in the nation before foregoing his senior year at Alabama. His size and talent led many to believe he'd be a star at the next level, and he tallied five sacks his second season in Oakland.
But off-field issues and multiple arrests eventually led to him leaving the Raiders. The Ravens took him in 2013, but McClain never played last season after deciding to retire. [embedded_ad]
"I think people had a lot of hopes for him as a pro player, and certainly he's had some issues since he's been in the NFL," Garrett said. "Played for a couple years, retired, unretired, and the research that we did, the due diligence that we did, both with Coach Saban and other people that have been around him, we felt like with his ability, with the kind of person he's demonstrated himself to be in the past, maybe we can help him through some of these issues that he has and get this guy back playing at the level we all thought he was capable of playing."
McClain just turned 25 years old nine days ago. The Cowboys got him on a low-risk deal that, at worst, would mean trading their sixth-round pick next year for a seventh-round pick from Baltimore. If he doesn't end up making the team, the Cowboys don't lose anything.
"I think some of the concerns that he had in retiring and unretiring had to do with family situations, so hopefully he has some of those resolved and we can help him through some of those things and give him a chance," Garrett said. "The deal that we made with Baltimore was not one that was a tremendous amount of risk. Obviously with Sean Lee's absence, we're looking for help and competition at the linebacker position."
If McClain can show what he has in the past, he could very well compete to be the new middle linebacker.
"Sean Lee motivated me a little bit, the loss of him – period," said owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "You take a No. 1 draft pick, you can say the same thing about a blue player, somebody thought he could play some football somewhere.
"I've known a lot of people – a lot of successful people – that quit and then got it together and turned it around and came back and really made something of what they quit, actually, in many cases. I've seen it happen several times in sports… I too have first-hand seen people that can work through things better than others. If they get it behind them, they can go on and be very productive."
Jones hopes that can be the case for his new middle linebacker. He said he hopes based on McClain's background and good health, he'll seize the opportunity for this second chance. He's certainly still young and talented enough to do so.
"Usually the athletic and skill level has passed them by in many cases, once they have an appreciation," Jones said. "He might have an opportunity to do it. Rolando is a guy I think has a chance. He was obviously well-compensated when he came into the league, and I can tell him firsthand money doesn't last forever if you don't keep it coming and you spend it. You might have a different way of approach and a different appreciation if you're out of dollars. I'm not saying he's out of dollars, but he certainly is less some dollars than where he was a few years back. That'll motivate you."