- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Linebacker Rolando McClain got thrown right into the fire in his return from retirement.
There was no acclimation period for McClain, the 25-year-old former eighth overall pick who sat out last season and missed the first two practices of the Dallas Cowboys' training camp to attend his trial on two misdemeanor charges in Alabama. He put on the pads Saturday afternoon and got to thumping.
In fact, McClain hit a little too hard on his first rep of team drills, tackling running back Lance Dunbar to the ground, something that isn’t supposed to happen in practice.
The 6-foot-4, 259-pound McClain worked as the second-team middle linebacker but will have every opportunity to win the starting job with Sean Lee out for the season. McClain displayed the talent on that snap that made the Cowboys decide he’s worth the risk despite his red flags. He shed a block by tight end James Hanna and stuffed Dunbar for a short loss.
“I was glad to see him,” owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. “I was impressed that they put him right in. I really thought they might ease him in, might need to since he hadn’t had OTAs, hadn’t had the kind of drills. The deal with him, and because of the issue retiring, what you want to see is what you were seeing when he wasn’t in the drill. He was back over there, his body language was great.”
Nobody has ever questioned McClain’s ability. He’s big, athletic and has great “functional intelligence,” as linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said. It’s his commitment, or lack thereof, and off-field behavior that has derailed his career to this point.
Those are also the reasons the Cowboys were able to get McClain, whose most notable stats since leaving Alabama are two retirements and three arrests, for next to nothing. “An excellent signing,” Jones called it.
“We have such a need with our linebacker and here you got a guy that has shown up enough to be drafted in the first round and has shown he was certainly a top college player and he’s shown flashes of that while he’s been in the pros,” Jones said. “That’s good opportunity when you’re in this business to be able to go get a guy that has that kind of skill and those kinds of issues. You don’t get them if they’re free of issues.”