We begin to discover what Rolando McClain is all about in less than a week.
McClain hasn’t had much to say since the beginning of training camp, and declined interview requests with the local media since Aug 1, unusual in that rookies are usually agreeable and in some cases eager to talk about their new life as an NFL player.
He’s been a hard guy to read, self-confident to the point of being aloof. There have been first-round draft picks in past years _ Napoleon Harris and Phillip Buchanon come to mind in 2002 _ who enter the league and conduct themselves as if they’ve got it all figured out.
The difference between McClain and those two is that he had such a good training ground at Alabama as well as an appetite for work study that his confidence is probably more well-founded than delusional.
McClain said it’s not in his personality to be overly impressed with his success or devastated by adversity.
“It’s just me, it’s just my demeanor. I’m the quarterback of the defense,” McClain said. “I can’t really get too high or too low about a lot of things. I’ve got to keep my composure.
“There’s 10 other guys out there waiting on me to be calm, because there’s a lot of things that go on, out there, different shifts, a lot of motions and I have to do my part of taking care of that and getting everybody else lined up, so I’ve just got to be composed.”
It’s clear McClain is convinced the NFL isn’t all that great a leap from playing for a Southeastern Conference champion and national champion at Alabama, where he said he practiced against a Heisman Trophy winner (Mark Ingram) every day. He shrugged off training camp as being no more demanding and difficult than anything he experienced in college.
Shifting from a 3-4 inside linebacker to 4-3 in the middle? Yawn. The only difference is now he doesn’t have a lineman directly in front of him.
It’s not as if McClain set the NFL on its ear during the preseason. He was taken out of an 89-yard run by Chicago center Olin Kreutz against the Bears and found himself locked up on more than one occasion by rookie guard Mike Iupati against the 49ers.
He almost looks a little on the slim side in the upper body to be a middle linebacker at 6-foot-4 and listed at 255 pounds. He’s also played only the equivalent of a little more than a single game of preseason football, so the sample size is much to small to draw any conclusions as to how he might fare.
McClain laughs at the thought of being affected by the heat of Nashville, having been born and raised in Alabama, and chides his teammates for mentioning the heat on warm Bay Area days in the absence of southern humidity.
One thing he does have is a healthy dose of respect for is Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, He invokes his conference pride by saying he’s played against the best backs in the country in the SEC, but then it’s clear he is well into his film work on the Titans offense.
“Every back in the NFL is great or they wouldn’t be here, but this guy, he’s extraordinary to say the least,” McClain said. “We’re going to have our hands full but we’re up to the job. We’ve just got to do our best containing the guy and try to stop some of those long runs.”
In one breath, McClain says his daily practices as Darren McFadden help prepare him for Johnson (keep in mind the Raiders don’t tackle at practice), but he seems to have a veteran’s grasp of the challenge before him.
“You really can’t practice for a guy like that, you just have to contain him,” McClain said. “Try to force everything back inside, or force him to the outside where hopefully he can run out of bounds. You give him an angle, he can outrun angles.
“He can do anything that you don’t think a running back should be able to do. He can do it, so we just have to stop the long runs. He’s going to get 2 or 3, maybe 5, but we just have to be consistent in stopping that and not let him get the 81-yard runs. That’s what will kill a team.”
More news and notes to come following press briefing with coach Tom Cable . . .