OXNARD, Calif. – The eyes of head coach Jason Garrett typically light up when asked about linebacker Rolando McClain. And it's not exactly because the former first-round pick of the Raiders has completely turned the corner, but he's starting to show daily progress.
Whether or not he ever lives up to the lofty expectations of being the No. 8 overall pick, McClain is showing enough promise where the coaching staff is prepping for possibilities where he becomes a starter.
For now, he's backing up middle linebacker Justin Durant, who has filled in nicely for Sean Lee here in camp. But Durant can also play WILL and SAM linebacker and that kind of versatility gives the Cowboys flexibility to switch things up if McClain continues to emerge.
"Well, we've actually had a linebacker group we put in about 10 days ago where that happened," Garrett said of a linebacker group that included McClain in the middle and Durant to the WILL for Kyle Wilber. "We believe in competition. It's amazing how players respond to competition for their job and for playing time. So, Rolando needs to keep growing and developing every day, but at the end of this thing, we're going to decide who are best three linebackers are and figure out where they should play."
Even though the Cowboys break camp on Friday and return to Dallas, three preseason games remain [embedded_ad] before the Sept. 7 opener with the 49ers.
"We've got to give guys opportunities to play in different spots as we go through this process," Garrett said. "If (McClain) shows us in practice and a game that he deserves to be one of them, we're going to figure out how to do it. The position flex that Justin has to be the MIKE and also be the WILL, that's very logical. Then you say OK, where's Bruce (Carter)? Well, there's competition at SAM linebacker. There are a lot of ways to do this and we've just got to figure out who the best three guys are and who deserves the playing time. We make those decisions as we go."
As for Wilber, Garrett certainly wouldn't knock his performance during this training camp, saying he is "very happy" with Wilber's play. But he also said the other young backers such as DeVonte Holloman and Anthony Hitchens have come on strong.
As for Carter, Garrett acknowledged room for improvement.
"Bruce has done some good things," Garrett said. "I think Bruce like the other guys needs to be a consistent player day in and day out. I think he is getting more comfortable in the scheme and he is certainly in the mix of it. He has got a lot of ability. He's got a lot of strengths. We have been using him as a rusher a bit more.
"Again you try to figure what the guys do well and who the best ones are and put them out there and give them a chance to do what they do best. It's our job to make sure to give them a chance to do those things."