ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys clearly hoped that Rolando McClain would claim the starting job at middle linebacker.
The fact of the matter is McClain, the twice-retired eighth overall pick of the 2010 draft, might not be ready for such a prominent role as he continues to chip off the rust and work his way into football shape.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has heaped praise on McClain throughout training camp and the preseason, but Jones dialed down the hype after the preseason finale, which McClain started and played two series.
“I don’t think Rolando is going to be the savior of this team,” Jones said. “We don’t have Sean Lee, but Rolando does have the skill level to come in here and really add to what we can do. But we’re going to need of him. But I don’t want anybody to think I expect him to be Dick Butkus or even Sean Lee. That’s not there.
“You’re a little excited when you see some of the things he does physically, but he hasn’t played for a year and a half. Let’s let him just come in here and when he gets in a game, he may be the fifth guy in or he may be coming in after we’ve had a couple of series, but let’s watch him come in here and let us play. I say that because I don’t want him or anybody else to think that we think he’s the savior of our defense. That’s not the way it is.”
Justin Durant, fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens and McClain have all taken first-team reps at middle linebacker this summer as the Cowboys attempt to replace Lee, who will miss the season with a knee injury. Bruce Carter, Kyle Wilber, Durant and Hitchens have worked with the starters at the outside linebacker spots, with Carter seeing time at both the strong side and weak side.
Asked which linebacker combination will start Week 1, coach Jason Garrett said, “We haven’t made that decision yet.” Jones is braced for it not to include McClain.