The Dallas Cowboys signed Rolando McClain this off-season after losing their starting inside linebacker, Sean Lee for the season. Unlike his short stint as a member of the Baltimore Ravens before ‘retiring', he actually showed up this time, with the intention of playing football.
The last time Rolando McClain faced an opposing team in any capacity was November 25, 2012. That was his final game with the Raiders, a 34-10 loss to the Bengals. Tuesday in Oxnard, he will face an opposing team for the first time since that day. And it just so happens to be his old team.
The Cowboys have played a preseason game already, but McClain was out injured so he didn't participate in the game. He returned from that injury on Sunday and is ready to go when his old mates line up opposite him.
He will face the team he quit on and publicly spoke of as not being a "real team" along with the coach who benched him, who he got into a shouting match with in practice, and who helped usher out his time with the team who took him 8th overall in the 2010 draft.
Reports out of Cowboys training camp with regard to McClain have been positive. According to Jason Garrett, he sees the player who the Raiders saw when they made him their top pick four years ago.
"It's easy to see why he was a Top 10 pick in the draft coming out of school," head coach Jason Garrett said of McClain. "I have liked what he's done so far. He's smart. He picks things up very quickly in meeting and is able to translate it on the field. Now, it's really early and he's probably practice four or five days with us and he has a long way to go, but he's really kind of stepped into this situation and it seems like he's taking advantage of this opportunity."
He also has his defensive coordinator talking very much like his former head coach at Alabama, Nick Saban did when he came out as the Butkus Award winner.
"He's smart and he's football aware," Rod Marinelli said of McClain. "I think he has a real passion to play football, a real passion. He plays fast. We're just going to keep coaching these guys, keep him in the mix, keep guys mixed up in there, give everybody as many opportunities as we can and see who surfaces."
Passion? That is not a word I would have ever used to describe McClain during his time with the Raiders. Then again, this is the preseason and the hype machine is on full throttle. So, it can be hard to know for certain what's true and what they simply want to be true.
McClain said it was the pitch by Jerry Jones that convinced him to return to football for the Cowboys and the coaching of Jason Garrett that keeps him working hard to stay there. Here is what McClain said about Garrett which in a way seems like a shot directed at Dennis Allen.
"When you got a head coach that you know is working his butt off to put you in the best situation for a game, you don't mind working your butt off for him, during the game and during practice," McClain said of Garrett. "Either you have it or you don't. Coach Garrett has it, so I respect him."
Well, he is about to face his last coach for whom, based on his actions, he has little in the way of respect. There are also quite a few players on this Raiders team who were there when he badmouthed them on social media and ghost rode his way out of Oakland.
Combine all those emotions with McClain eagerness to show his current team they have their inside linebacker of the future and his former team they made a mistake, and things could get chippy.
Both of the practices will be full contact with the usual stipulation of no taking players to the ground. Getting too rough with each other is usually cause for some extracurricular scuffling.
It makes for a thick plot that nearly 21 months after he became a pariah with the Raiders, they should present his first test against an opposing team as he attempts to prove he is worthy of another shot in the NFL.