Prior to the 2009 season, Alabama guard Mike Johnson (picked 98th overall by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2010 draft) said, "He's such a great guy, really a good guy for us to look up to and we're only going to get better the longer he is out there on the field with us. He can come in here and talk as low as he wants to, but he really plays loud out on the field."
Crimson Tide Head Coach Nick Saban spoke of McClain prior to the season also. He said, "He can affect other people and he does affect other people on the defense. If you're gonna be a great player, I don't know any great players that don't inspire other people on their unit, and he certainly has the ability to do that."
Leading up to the 2009 season, there was a lot of hype surrounding an Alabama defense that was returning eight starters from the 2008 season. Some called the Tide defense the best in the nation before the season even started. They did not disappoint. Leading up to the LSU game in mid-November, the ‘Bama defense did not allow an opening drive score in five conference games and held opponents to 33 three and out series. In the 2009 season, McClain had 14.5 tackles for loss and four sacks to go along with two interceptions
McClain is a self-motivated, high character, highly technical player who studied fifteen hours of tape per week as a full-time college student. Now it is his job to study film, and I'd almost guarantee that he has a really good feel for exactly what kind of schemes the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, and Denver Broncos will be throwing at him already.
Perhaps we should ask his former college teammates what they think "Ro'll Time" brings to a team.
Alabama linebacker (now New York Jets LB) Cory Reamer, "He's telling the other ten guys on the field what their assignments are as well as doing his job."
Alabama CB (#50 overall to the KC Chiefs) Javier Arenas, "You would think he's cheating, because that's how quick he can react. Like if they start to shift, most defenses just sit there and scratch their heads. But he's like, ‘y'all shift, we gonna shift.'"
Heisman trophy winning sophomore HB Mark Ingram, "He'll be yelling at the safeties or yelling at the D-line pushing them around, I'll be like man ‘Hurry up and get the calls together their about to snap the ball'"
As soon as the 2009 NFL regular season ended I thought about the NFL draft. I said to me ‘what do the Raiders need to fix this pathetic run defense?' I came to the conclusion that McClain was the answer; and yes there was only one answer. In March, I wrote the article "Raiders Linebackers and the 2010 draft possibilities", I featured the middle linebacker position as the "one position left to address and it is perhaps the most important; not only for linebackers, but for the entire defense." Rolando McClain was the player I featured as the best candidate to come in and be the Quarterback of the defense for the Oakland Raiders. I never thought they would draft him, because they never draft the guy I want them to get. But alas, this offseason is different...special.
Nick Saban called McClain "Probably the best defensive football player in the country" long before he was drafted. Saban said this at McClain's acceptance ceremony for the 2009 Dick Butkus Award, "He had a great year on the field, did a fantastic job for his team, and also influenced his teammates in a very positive way. His performance and his production individually were off the charts. So in every way; from a performance/production stand point [and] from a leadership stand point, his contribution to the team's success was as much as anybody on our team and we're really proud of him for that.
"This is a fine young man who has represented the University of Alabama in a first class way, not only as a football player on the field, but as a person and a student here at the university and someone who has always projected a real positive image for young people as well."
McClain is the leader that the Raiders defense has been missing in the middle of their defense. He is the guy that fans always wished Kirk Morrison could be. He is a natural leader. Natural leaders say things like:
- "I'm not just a run stuffer, I'm 259 [pounds] and I can move with the best of them. I don't want to be compared to DeMeco Ryans, I don't want to be compared to Ray Lewis, I just want to be Rolando McClain and I want to go out and make a name for myself."
- "We feel like we're a pretty good team, so whether on the road or at home, we are going to play hard no matter where we are at."
- "It's not about how well [the opponent] plays, it's about how we go out and play. I know we will be ready. I'll do my part getting the rest of the team ready."
- "[Winning the Dick Butkus award] means a lot, to me, but it's bigger than me, it's for my team because without them I don't think I would even get this award. These guys have played hard all year and I'm just thankful for them. I like the individual award, but I would like no more than to see my teammates with the National Championship award."
McClain gives much of the credit or his success to Nick Saban, but even Saban said he was ready to move on. Despite the fact that Saban does not generally encourage his underclassmen to move on, he did give McClain his blessing with the stipulation that McClain would finish his degree eventually.
Perhaps the biggest contributing factor to McClain's success at the next level will be Nick Saban and his complicated defense, "Coach Saban is one of the best defensive minds ever, so me playing in such a complicated defense gives me an advantage," said McClain. "I know when I step in it'll be somewhat easier for me being that I did play under him for three years. He helped me understand the game of football. Not from just what I'll do in his defense, but just understand the game of football, especially from a defensive stand point and understanding offenses."
I close with this statement that McClain made when he was talking about two freshmen linebackers joining the Crimson Tide prior to the '09 season. It just so happens that today and for the remainder of this season, it applies to him, "You went from being the big guy on campus, and now it's like you're starting at the bottom of the totem pole. Everybody's good and the thing that separates those that are just good and don't play from those who do play is how well you study. How much film you watch, how well you know the defense. Get in your playbook as much as possible and know what to do when you're on the field, because everybody's good, everybody has talent. "
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