NAPA, Calif. (AP) - Now that Rolando McClain no longer has to spend his time thinking about being in the right place and worrying about getting his teammates into the correct defense, the Oakland Raiders hope he'll be able to make even more big plays.
With a year of experience as an NFL middle linebacker under his belt, McClain hopes to be able to get to the ball faster, disrupt offenses more often and become the big-play linebacker the Raiders hoped they added when they drafted him seventh overall in 2010.
"When you can play fast without thinking about what you do, it gives you the ability to play fast as well as make plays, so now I'm not worried about what I do, now I can look at the formations and think about what the offense is going to do instead of worrying about what I'm going to do," McClain said. "It enables me to play a lot faster."
McClain said there were only a couple of games as a rookie where he felt truly comfortable with his knowledge of the defense and could attack the opposition instead of just react.
Even with a change in defensive coordinator after Chuck Bresnahan took over for John Marshall and no formal offseason workouts because of the lockout, McClain believes he's far ahead of where he was a year ago just trying to keep up as a rookie.
That has already been evident on the practice field, where McClain has appeared faster and more disruptive than he was a year ago. He has even gotten into a few tussles with teammates, pleasing coach Hue Jackson, who is counting on McClain to lead a defense that returns 10 starters, including Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour.
"What I'm trying to get him to understand is this defense flows through him," Jackson said. "He gets to see it all. Richard is the veteran, obviously, but McClain gets to see the offense. Richard's hand is down on the ground, but this guy (McClain) needs to be the unquestioned leader of our defense, and he should be and he can be. That's what I expect from him. I'm always in his ear because I know what this young man can be. He's a really, really good football player, but I'm asking him to be great. I'm not looking for him to be good. I want No. 55 on this team to be great."
Being anointed the leader of a defense that includes more decorated and experienced players like Seymour, who has won three Super Bowls and been selected to six Pro Bowls in his career doesn't come naturally to the reserved McClain.
He says he's not a "rah-rah" guy but he is filling that role at times this year.
"Last year was his first year so there might have been some hesitation at times to be more vocal," fellow linebacker Kamerion Wimbley said. "Now he's definitely stepping up and filling that role as one of the team leaders, especially on the defensive side of the ball."
McClain was second on the Raiders in tackles as a rookie with 85. But he didn't deliver many game-changing plays, with just half a sack, one interception, and nor forced or recovered fumbles in 15 games.
He had seven tackles for losses on running plays, broke up six passes and had a few bone-crushing hits. Now Jackson wants him to be one of the "hunters" he's looking for on defense.
"That's my next step, I expect those things for myself," McClain said. "But if you saw me in college, that wasn't something that I did. I'm just a solid player, solid on the run, solid on the pass game. I don't come off the field and just being a sure tackler as well as a pretty good leader out there. Of course I want to make more turnovers, force more fumbles, that's a big goal of my own. But I think it's just being a solid player, when you look on the field you know 55 is going to get the job done no matter what."
McClain spent the offseason back in Alabama, where he watched film and worked out under the guidance of his former college coaches at Alabama. He lost about five or six pounds, spent plenty of time in the water swimming to stay in shape and watched hours of film.
Film watching has been a major part of McClain's training ever since he got to Alabama and played for coach Nick Saban. McClain said he hated film watching when he got to Alabama but has seen the results in college and the pros.
"You need to be able to single out your opponent and know what they're going to do before they do it, so when they do it you can counter and be ahead of them," he said. "That helped me and it's paying dividends here."
NOTES: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey participated in team drills in practice for the first time this training camp. ... WR Louis Murphy missed his fifth straight practice with what Jackson described as a "minor" injury. ... Jackson wore "highlighter yellow" shoes for practice after losing a bet with RB Michael Bennett.