First-round pick McClain makes it to 1st practice
AP Sports Writer
NAPA, Calif. (AP) – While his Raiders teammates were at meetings to start training camp, first-round pick Rolando McClain was waiting in his house in Oakland hoping he’d be able to join them for the first practice.
After signing his contract late Wednesday night, McClain made it up to the Raiders’ summer home in the wine country to be on the field for the first training camp workout.
“My whole goal was to be here for the first day of practice,” McClain said Thursday. “I know I missed a few meetings but my goal was to be here for the first day of practice. We got it accomplished.”
McClain, the eighth-overall pick in April’s draft, was just the third first-round pick to sign a contract and the highest overall pick to do so. He reportedly got a five-year, $40 million contract that will guarantee him about $23 million.
The Dallas Cowboys signed No. 24 pick Dez Bryant last week and the New England Patriots signed No. 27 pick Devin McCourty on Wednesday morning.
With McClain’s signing, Oakland has gotten all nine of its draft picks under contract. The Raiders traditionally have done a good job getting their top picks into camp on time, with the exception of JaMarcus Russell’s lengthy holdout in 2007 that lasted until the start of the regular season.
Darrius Heyward-Bey missed the morning session on the first day a year ago before signing a deal that guaranteed him at least $23.5 million.
McClain was a key offseason addition the Raiders made in an attempt to upgrade their run defense, which ranked 29th last season. Oakland showed its confidence in McClain by trading incumbent starting middle linebacker Kirk Morrison to Jacksonville on the second day of the draft and quickly proclaiming McClain the starter.
“He’s here,” coach Tom Cable said. “That’s really a tall statement from him, too. He’s just going to get better and better as we go, and we just got to keep teaching him.”
McClain was part of Nick Saban’s first recruiting class at Alabama, spending three years learning under one of the game’s most respected defensive coaches. McClain was one of the key cogs in Saban’s rapid turnaround at Alabama, helping the Crimson Tide win the national championship last season.
Alabama ranked 46th in the nation in run defense before McClain arrived. The Tide improved to 28th in his freshman year and second in his final two seasons. He won the Butkus Award as the top college linebacker, recording 105 tackles, including 14.5 for losses.
Now the Raiders hope he can have the same type of impact on another storied team that has had recent struggles. Since going to the Super Bowl following the 2002 season, the Raiders have lost at least 11 games the past seven years. They are 29-83 in that span, the second-worst record in the NFL.
Stopping the run has been a common theme to Oakland’s struggles the past seven seasons. The Raiders have allowed an NFL-worst 143.7 yards rushing per game since then and 146 touchdowns on the ground – 15 more than the second-worst team, St. Louis.
The Raiders also took defensive lineman Lamarr Houston in the second round and added two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle John Henderson and outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley in the offseason to bolster the run defense.
“It’s scary how good I think we could be,” McClain said. “I think we may have a little stepping stone in there but if everybody comes to work and everybody does their job, we should be fine.”