Like plenty of other fans around Cowboys Universe, I asked myself one question when the Dallas Cowboys acquired the rights to Rolando McClain, a player with a reputation for being anything but one of Jason Garrett's RKG's. Those of you with a military background will recognize that question as "Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot". On the surface, McClain was not someone that I would have put much faith in, based on his past in the National Football League. Garrett, with his ties to McClain's former college coach Nick Saban, had access to some insider information however, that perhaps the young linebacker might just be what the team needed in the wake of losing Sean Lee.
The feedback that we are getting is telling us that McClain is making progress in his return. The former first round selection has not played football since 2012, and the rust has been obvious, but it seems that the rust is being shaken off as McClain gets back into the swing of things. McClain is the first to admit that he is not where he wants to be.
"I'm trying to get my body back right. I'm not all the way there yet. I feel all right." - Rolando McClain
That is to be expected. There is little reason to doubt that the player who walked away from the game twice would experience some issues getting ready to perform on the field. His early season will be a work in progress and Rolando McClain is going two have to demonstrate his resolve to be a professional football player. So far he seems to be doing just that. His efforts in training camp are impressing those who are keeping a close eye on his progress. McClain's progress has been summed up most descriptively by Clarence Hill of the Ft. Worth Star Telegram:
Coaches and scouts will tell you, however, that the 6-foot-4, 259-pounder has been coming on of late like a freight train roaring down a mountain.
With a defense that is already the subject of much concern and return of the injury bug to Oxnard, it is nice to hear that one thing is going well. McClain is Pro Bowl level talent if he is motivated to play up to his potential. Still, the Cowboys are playing things close to the vest. They have been burned before. For now they are keeping things low key with the former Alabama All-American. In what has become an oft repeated mantra around the Garret-led Cowboys, they are looking for McClain to "stack one good day on top of another".
"He's very impressive when he's out there. The big thing with him right now is being able to put good days together." - Jason Garrett
Still, the Dallas head coach has been impressed with what he is seeing so far. McClain is living up to what Coach Saban promised Garret he could ultimately become.
"He's a big guy. He can run. He's physical. He's instinctive. He flashes as a guy who knows what he is doing. He reads things. He strikes the runner. There are a lot of things to like about him, but again it's still early. He's got to do it again and again and again."
While much has been said about McClain's "I love life" answer to the question asking if he loved football, based on what the Cowboys are seeing from Rolando, both on the field and in meeting rooms, I am seeing his experience with the Dallas Cowboys as something that has re-sparked a passion in an extremely talented young man. It is a spark that properly kindled could lead Rolando McClain to finally fulfill his potential as a football player at the game's highest level. Taken as more than a sound bite, the phrase Rolando uttered sounds much better.
"I had personal reasons I had to take care of to walk away from the game. I did what's right for me and my family most importantly. I got myself better. I'm back in football and I'm glad to be a Cowboy."
"I love life, and football is part of my life, so I love life."
Now he just needs to live it, and if he does, the possibilities loom large for a revitalized Rolando McClain.