ALAMEDA (AP) — Rolando McClain is working on making himself more of a vocal presence around the Oakland Raiders defense.
What the Raiders really need is for their former first-round pick to be a more physical presence on the field in his third season in the NFL.
McClain has yet to play up to the lofty billing he received as the eighth overall pick out of Alabama in the 2010 draft. Instead of transforming a struggling defense, McClain has been part of the problems that have held the Raiders back the past two years.
With a new defensive scheme that better suits McClain’s style and a focus on being more vocal, the Raiders are hoping for a breakthrough from McClain this season.
“He’s more of a vocal leader,” safety Michael Huff said. “Before he’s been a leader but a shy, quiet guy who really didn’t want to get on people or do that side of it. Now he’s getting on people, yelling, getting everybody into the huddle, breaking the huddle. ... Either you have it or not. I think he has it and he’s bringing it out this year.”
As the defensive signal caller, McClain needs to be vocal to make sure his teammates are in the proper position and know their assignments before every play.
He said he had no problems doing that in college at Alabama when he helped the Crimson Tide win a national championship in 2009, but he said it’s more difficult to do that in the NFL.
“It’s different here. It’s just different,” he said. “You’re not dealing with guys your own age. You’re dealing with grown men. Being a leader is just not about yelling but understanding guys that you’re working with. Different people respond to different things in different ways. It’s figuring out your teammates and how they respond to things to get them to work. It’s still a process.”
McClain was supposed to be the key to a defensive turnaround in Oakland after being taken eighth overall in the 2010 draft. He had 85 tackles, a half-sack and one interception as a rookie.
He showed signs of improvement last season with 99 tackles and five sacks but still had problems in coverage and sometimes took bad angles in the run game, leading to big plays.
McClain has allowed 73 completions in 115 pass attempts for 794 yards and seven touchdowns in his two seasons, according to STATS LLC.
But he hopes this defense that will leave him in man coverage less often and give him more chances to blitz will better suit him.
“It’s not just my game or anybody’s game in particular. I think it suits everybody on the defense from linebacker to d-line to secondary,” he said. “We’re all able to make plays on the defense. We just have to make them when your number is called.”
McClain’s struggles last year were a factor in the Raiders setting franchise worsts in touchdown passes allowed (31), yards per carry (5.1), yards passing (4,262) and total yards (6,201), while giving up the third-most points (433) in team history.
Oakland became the sixth team since the 1970 merger to allow at least 2,000 yards rushing and 4,000 yards passing in a season.
“I’m not talking about the past,” McClain said. “This is a new year. The past is the past for a reason. It’s a new year, and we got a chance to go out and be as good as we want to be.”
McClain had an eventful offseason that included stem cell treatment on his knee and ankle that he hopes will keep him healthier this season and a court date stemming from a shooting last November in Alabama.
McClain was convicted in May in Decatur, Ala., of third-degree assault, menacing, reckless endangerment and discharging a firearm in the city limits and sentenced to180 days in jail. McClain is appealing the conviction to Morgan County Circuit Court and will have a jury trial likely after the season.
The NFL has not yet determined if McClain will be punished by the league but McClain said he is not worried about a possible suspension.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a talk of anything about a suspension,” he said. “I haven’t heard it. I guess that’s all speculation.”
NOTES: K Sebastian Janikowski was excused from practice for personal reasons. ... WRs Denarius Moore (hamstring) and Jacoby Ford (left foot) continue to be held out of practice because of their injuries. Ford said he was encouraged that he could jog for the first time Tuesday, but did not know whether he could play the opener. Ford, who got hurt Aug. 17, missed six games with a similar injury last season and is still waiting to hear from the doctor whether this injury is as serious.