Under the microscope: Rolando McClain

Earlier this offseason, Rolando McClain, middle linebacker for the Oakland Raiders saw a group of people standing on the corner when suddenly one of the people aimed at him and started shooting at his Chevy Tahoe. It’s what you call a close call. It’s a good thing nothing more serious happened. Now McClain can look forward to what should be a very bright and perhaps brilliant career. The Oakland Raiders thought enough of the kid to replace the reliable Kirk Morrison with a rookie at his position. By most accounts, they made the right moves that draft weekend. Now the question is, will he take that next step and become the next generation’s Ray Lewis?

Last year, McClain missed the week 14 match-up against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Raiders did a good job of stopping the run in the first half, but had a major breakdown in the second half giving up over 200 rushing yards and a lot of points. You have to wonder if that was because McClain was not present to call the front seven for the defense. McClain said that he couldn’t stand not being on the field for that game with his team and watching them lose. A lot of Raiders’ players point to that game as one that kept them out of the playoffs. McClain would return and have seven tackles the next week against the Denver Broncos.

Would the outcome have been different if McClain had been in the line-up? There is nothing indicating that would have been the case, but still there is a chance. Last year alone, with McClain in the middle of the defense instead of Kirk Morrison, they had five games (of 15) where they held opponents under 100 total yards in rushing. With Kirk Morrison in the line-up, the defense averaged only three of those games per season. If McClain and his defense improve as expected, they could potentially not give up a single 200-yard game all of next year following McClain’s rookie season where they gave up three such games. 200-yard games are something that offenses did with some regularity (14 times) against the “Law Firm.”

Still, it’s far too early to call McClain “Ray Lewis.” Plus, scratch that idea anyway because McClain has already said that in five years he wants to be the one that the rookies are compared to. This guy is looking to be one of the all-time greats at this level.

I sure don’t doubt that he can. He has the brains, he is really big and really fast, he’s got a good supporting cast, he’s a natural leader, and he has football in his blood. He’s like the anti-JaMarcus first round pick in every sense – except JaWalrus is really big too.

McClain is in Atlanta with his teammates participating in RaidersCamp 2011. He’s out there calling the shots for his defensive mates that includes two players – Chimdi Chekwa and DeMarcus Van Dyke – who are in the shoes that McClain was in last year, as a rookie.  This year, McClain could have to deal with not having Nnamdi Asomugha on the edge in the Raiders defense, so getting to know two guys who may have an opportunity to get playing time will be helpful, even if it is just four days.

McClain hates not being able to interact with his coaches and teammates at the team’s facility. “I feel like my second year can be a lot better than my first year,” McClain said. “So it kind of sucks not to be able to be around football for so long.”

Death Ro’, as he was called at Alabama, has a lot still to prove, but did put an exclamation point on his rookie season by making two of the year’s most memorable tackles.

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As a defense you want your middle linebacker to be a vocal leader on and off the field. With McClain’s habit of film study, the hope of the Raiders is that young guys see how much work it takes to make it at the next level. Very similar to Ray Lewis, if Rolando does the right things preparing for his games, the young guys like him will see that dedication and follow the leader so to speak. This is something I will look for McClain to improve this season. Right now the leaders are clearly Nnamdi, Michael Huff, and Richard Seymour. The Defense will be taking applications for new captains, if you catch my drift.

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