For the Dallas Cowboys to reach their full potential, they will need to stay healthy. No team in the NFL can stay entirely away from the injury bug, but the teams who end up having the most success in the NFL are usually the ones that don't have that many players with serious injuries. One area where the Cowboys are already thin on talent to start the season is along defensive line. With third-round pick Maliek Collins going down with the foot injury a couple of days ago, they have one more issue.
Returning from injury will be Terrell McClain, a guy who has played in just 15 games in two seasons. McClain will be coming back from a toe injury that kept him out of the entirety of the 2015 season outside of the first two games of the year. We've never really gotten the chance to see McClain develop into regular on this defense, but the main reason for that has been his inability to stay healthy. In his Dallas tenure, McClain has been set back by ankle, hamstring, and toe injuries.
As Dallas has managed their roster this offseason, the team is trying to build from the interior of the defensive line and hope that the pressure they generate can impact their defensive ends. For that to happen, the Cowboys need a regular rotation of talent at defensive tackle position. Fortunately for the Cowboys, McClain has been an impact player at times during his tenure with the Cowboys. Let's take a look at some of his most noteworthy plays.
Finding impact plays from McClain is difficult. Injuries have limited the available selection. Also, because of his position, McClain is the guy that's taking on double teams while players like Sean Lee and Rolando McClain come in for the tackles. In this play, however, McClain fights off two blockers to get a strip sack on Robert Griffin III, yeah that Robert Griffin III.
The second play displays the skills the Cowboys love out of McClain. Notice his quickness off the football. He's the first one off the line when the ball is snapped and he uses that speed push the center back before creating good distance to shed the center and make a play in the backfield.
Rotating in and out with the rest of the defensive tackle group, McClain's speed and quickness will be of great use on early downs if he can stay away from injury. In this clip, McClain dips right around the lineman in front of him to get in the backfield.
It's an extremely small sample size, but the clips above point to the type of player McClain is and the presence he can be to this defensive line. When Dallas brought him in a few years ago, the deal had that classic look of a "develop and hold onto him for a few years", similar to what the Cowboys did with both George Selvie and Jeremy Mincey. Staying away from injury will be vital for McClain, but the tools are there for the Cowboys to get an interesting player in the interior.
The nice thing about this cast of defensive tackles is that there are a lot of different types of players. Having McClain back could pay off big dividends for the Cowboys. Each defensive lineman improves with the coaching of Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett. If injury doesn't get in his way, it's going to be interesting to see what McClain can fully develop into.