Middle linebacker Rolando McClain was taken off the physically unable to perform list and practiced with the Dallas Cowboys on a limited basis Monday.
McClain had been on the PUP list since the start of training camp because of offseason knee surgery.
McClain will miss the first four games of the season serving an NFL suspension for violating the substance abuse policy, but coach Jason Garrett said it’s good to get him back practicing with the team.
He got some work with the first team defense in the walk through portion of practice but was limited mainly to individual drills.
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“We just feel like he’s ready to practice,” Garrett said. “He’s going to be out there on the practice field in his gear, he’s going to be limited in practice, mostly just working individual. But we want to start bringing him back and playing football.”
The Cowboys pondered leaving McClain on PUP list to start of the season, causing him to miss the first six weeks.
Considering the Cowboys have a bye following their fifth game against the New England Patriots, it would have meant that McClain would have only missed one more game.
His suspension would have run concurrently with the PUP designation.
But Garrett said there are only 16 games in a season and every game is important. That one game is the reason why they activated him off PUP, putting him back on the field for Oct. 11 game against the New England Patriots rather than the Oct. 25 game at the New York Giants.
Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said it was good to get him some time on the field with starters and get some communication things for at least a couple of practices this week before he starts serving his suspension when final cuts are made on Saturday.
Garrett said McClain has been engaged with the team and gotten mental reps throughout training camp.
“I think he’s done a great job,” Garrett said. “Very engaged in meetings. Engaged on the practice field. He’s a really smart football player, and he’s a really interested football player. He loves the game, and you can see that. He loves talking about the game and talking ball and asking questions. He’s one of those guys who sees the game really easily. And that’s a great thing. He can help some of the younger players. The discussions with the coaches are always really at a very high level. And certainly very engaged in all the different opportunities that he had. It will be fun to see him out there on that practice field.”
Garrett is not a fan of players being forced away from the team and facility while on suspension. But he hopes and believes McClain will be ready to go when he returns.
“It’s just the nature of it,” Garrett said. “That’s something that’s always a concern when you have a suspended player. You can make a compelling argument that the best place for the suspended players to be is with their teammates and with their football team. But that’s not the way the rules are in the league. Hopefully we have responsible enough guys on our team who are going to take care of themselves and handle their business the way they need to and when they come back, they’re ready to go.”
Anthony Hitchens is expected to start in middle linebacker in McClain’s absence for the first four games. Hitchens has missed the entire preseason with a foot sprain but should be ready for the opener, Garrett said.