OXNARD, Calif. – Linebacker Rolando McClain opened training camp Thursday on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list while he continues to rehab from his May knee scope.
When the regular season begins, he'll sit the first four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Now back with teammates in Oxnard, McClain is ready to move forward on both fronts: get healthy, learn from his suspension, and get back on the field to help a revamped Cowboys defense.
"At the end of the day, I broke a rule," he said after Thursday's opening walkthrough. "I was punished, I accept my punishment. The best thing I can do now is move on from it, learn from it."
McClain re-signed with the Cowboys after a 2014 season in which he became an impactful replacement for an injured Sean Lee at middle linebacker. Despite battling through a sore knee for much of the year, he still ranked second on defense in tackles (108) and first in tackles for loss (9), and he believes he found a home in Dallas.
"I don't know what the expectations were for me last year, but I think now guys see the ability that I have, not only that but the love and the passion that I have for the game," he said. "Honestly it feels like being back in college."
McClain hoped rest and rehab would improve the knee in the offseason. When it didn't, he opted for a scope that kept him out of OTAs and minicamp.
"It didn't happen as fast or it wasn't going like we planned, so we elected to have the surgery, not just for this year but for years to come," he said. "Clean it up and move forward so it's not an issue where in the season you can worry about your fundamentals, you can worry about making sure your technique and everything is down and not so much focus on how can I rehab just to get to the game."
McClain spent most of the spring and summer rehabbing back home in Alabama. Then his suspension was announced in early July. Fortunately, the Cowboys had added depth at linebacker by signing veteran Jasper Brinkley and drafting Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson the past two years.
On Active/PUP, McClain is eligible to return to practice at any point in preseason. He said the knee feels "good," and he and the athletic training staff are focused on getting his knee comfortable with regular movements so there are no setbacks.
He's looking forward to getting back on the field, but he knows sitting out won't be easy.
"Pretty hard," he said. "At the end of the day, you play football. To miss a game, or four games for that matter, is going to be tough. But I'm going to do my best to keep my mind in it. I know I'll be working hard to stay ready for it."