NFL: McClain trying to make impression with Raiders
ALAMEDA, Calif. — Linebacker Rolando McClain led Alabama last season in tackles, big hits and hours spent studying football.
So when the Oakland Raiders drafted him in the first round with the No. 8 overall choice, McClain did what any serious student of the game would do before his first big NFL test: start studying for the three-day mandatory minicamp.
"The day after I got drafted, I called looking for a playbook, something to look over, some DVDs and the playbook," McClain said after his first minicamp practice with the Raiders. "I didn't waste any time."
McClain said the Raiders quickly shipped him some material to study. Then when he arrived for minicamp, Raiders coach Tom Cable immediately plugged him into his defense at middle linebacker with the first-team.
"I thought very poised and he seemed to adapt to being able to go in and call the huddle right away," Cable said. "He's been here really less than 24 hours. It shows the level of intelligence this young has, his background. He was very impressive that way. Now, he's got to learn how to play in our defense."
McClain was the most important offseason addition the Raiders made in an attempt to upgrade their run defense, which ranked 29th last season and 31st in 2007 and '08. Two days after taking McClain in the draft, the Raiders traded incumbent starting middle linebacker Kirk Morrison to Jacksonville. Morrison led the team in tackles the past four years.
"Obviously they expect a lot," McClain said Saturday. "They put me in with the starters right away, so all I can do is my job. They know I'm young. I'm going to make some mistakes, but me, I'm a perfectionist, so I expect to be perfect. I know I'm not, but I'm going to fight to be perfect every day."
So far, McClain has made a good impression on his veteran teammates.
"He's good," Raiders defensive end Jay Richardson said. "He's been tossed right into the flames, but you know what? He's got good instincts. The kid's physical, too. All he has to do is learn to speak up a little bit in the huddle, and he's going to be fine. A little louder. Other than that, I like how he's playing."
Last year, McClain won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker and made a team-leading 105 tackles, helping lead Alabama to the BCS championship. McClain was the leader of Alabama's defense, and Cable wants him to fill that role with the Raiders.
"You're either born with it or you're not," McClain said of leadership ability. "For me, it was something I was born with. I haven't always been a vocal leader, but for the most part, I was just a guy that led by example.
"But my last two years in college, coach (Nick Saban) needed me to be more of a vocal leader, so it's something that they pushed for me to do, so I did it."
McClain is adjusting to a new defensive scheme. He played inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense at Alabama, and now he's the middle linebacker in the Raiders' 4-3.
"I have a little more freedom to run as opposed to being in the 3-4, always taking on the guards," McClain said. "I think I like it a little bit better."
Playing for a former NFL head coach in Saban during college didn't hurt.
"My head's not really spinning too much," he said. "I've got some great vets beside me that are helping me through, but obviously I take pride in my job so I've been doing a lot of extra studying."