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2010 NFL Draft: Raiders pick Rolando McClain in first round

on April 22, 2010

On the night of the 2010 NFL Draft, Rolando McClain was sitting at home playing poker with his buddies with the TV on in the background. He was doing pretty well, too. It came down to him and one other guy by the time the clock struck 8:30 pm. But then it was time to turn their attention elsewhere.

Commissioner Roger Goodell stepped up to the podium at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. “With the eighth pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders choose Rolando McClain.”

A satellite image of McClain and his friends flashed on the television as the living room exploded, according to a satisfied coach Tom Cable who was on the phone with McClain as the announcement was made. Even a small white terrier jumped up on McClain’s lap with excitement.

It was obvious McClain wasn’t the Raiders’ top choice. The team is in desperate need of a player who can defend the run, something Oakland has been struggling with for the last several losing seasons. Cable and the rest of the Raiders organization had been eyeing guys like Gerald McCoy and Trent Williams, tackles out of Oklahoma, as well as Russell Okung from Oklahoma State. But it was not a shock that those three were off the table by the time the Raiders had their pick, and Cable was very clear that acquiring McClain was in no way a disappointment.

“We coveted those three guys that went, but we felt like there’d a chance they’d go early and they did. That’s the way the draft goes,” said Cable minutes after the pick was made. “We got a player of Rolando’s caliber with the eighth pick and I’m buzzing.”

At 6-foot-3, 254 pounds, McClain looks more like a basketball guard than he does a middle linebacker. But he has the strength and speed to take down tight ends and work man-coverage—the basis of the Raiders’ defensive strategy. And unlike most rookies, it is unlikely that McClain will simply shy away in the presence of team veterans. Playing for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, McClain became known for making calls from his position, showing leadership skills—something the Raiders had been hoping for in 2008 draftee JaMarcus Russell. When Cable was investigating McClain, the most popular stories were ones in which he would forcibly convince his teammates to sit and study tape.

“We looked for guys who worked themselves into being the player they can be,” said Cable. “What this guy’s unique quality is, is his football IQ and leadership and ability to get others around him to enjoy studying the game like he did.”

“I’m shy in my personal life but when it comes to football I do what I have to do to have success,” McClain said in a phone interview to the assembled media back in the Raiders headquarters in Alameda. “My biggest asset is my intensity, not just as a football player but as a leader and teammate. I’m accustomed to winning.”

The Raiders have some fair competition in next year’s schedule. But McClain is coming out of what is arguably the strongest collegiate conference in the country: the Southeastern Conference. He has also been trained by renowned Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban. According to McClain, he gives credit to God, his family, and Nick Saban, so coach is in good company.

McClain said he’s played the linebacker position since high school. He used to play outside but he was so fast he kept running down his opponents so they moved him to the middle. “The best part about being a linebacker is you get to hit someone every play. That pretty much sums it up,” he said. “You get to be in control.”

McClain, who says he’s been playing the position since he was a toddler, knows the position back and forth. But that doesn’t stop him from continuing his education. He is constantly reviewing tape with his coaches. However, he has some catching up to do when it comes to his knowledge of the team he is about to join. He admits he hasn’t followed the Raiders but he knows enough to realize they need as much help as they can defending the run. And having played every minute on the field last season with Alabama, he will certainly be a great asset in that respect.

“We play a lot of man coverage and this guy can cover the tight ends and intercept balls in space,” said Cable. “He’s played in the best college football conference there is and he’s able to go out there and direct it. The more I watched this guy the easier it was to feel as a football coach that he’s got his hand on this thing.

The Raiders are struggling with poor draft choices made in the last half-decade, and are  disappointed with the play of current middle linebacker Kirk Morrison. Oakland’s main problem is depth in that position; signing McClain will fulfill one of the many needs the Raiders are hoping to fill in this year’s draft.

Rounds 2 and 3 will start tomorrow at 6 pm PST with Rounds 4-7 on Saturday starting at 10 am. It’s still up in the air who the Oakland picks will be, but backfield defenders and a solid quarterback are the two big holes that need to be filled. Cable said McClain will be attending mini-camp as soon as the preseason begins and will be in the running for a starter position.i

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