Middle linebacker Rolando McClain is starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list because of offseason knee surgery.
It’s a setback considering that he is already going to miss the first four games of the 2015 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
But what’s also true is that McClain is beginning his second year with the Cowboys more comfortable than ever and focused on having a big year.
“It’s life. I ain’t perfect,” McClain said of failing a drug test and being suspended by the NFL. “Nobody else is. I am working on perfecting my flaws and getting back and being healthy and doing my best to put it behind me. When I do I come back, I will try to improve the defense and build on the success they are having.”
Executive vice president Stephen Jones and coach Jason Garrett both said McClain apologized to the team and expressed remorse for the suspension.
“He felt like he let his teammates down,” Jones said. “Obviously he’s hated that he let his teammates down. We were aware of what was going on there when we signed him. At the same time, we felt like if we can get Ro healthy and back out on the field, he’s a difference-maker and worth working through these issues with him.”
That the Cowboys embraced him and his issues is what has McClain feeling good about being even better in his second year back in the league after sitting out the 2013 season.
Being welcomed back by the entire organization meant a lot to the former 2010 first-round pick, who was labeled as a bust during a disappointing first four years in Oakland. It has him as excited about football since his days in college at Alabama.
“The best thing about it was the warm welcome I got _ not only from Mr. Jones and the coaching staff but all of my teammates,” McClain said. “I didn’t know what the expectations were for me last year. But now that I see the ability that I have and not only that but the love and the passion I have for the game. Honestly it feels like I’m back in college. It feels about right.”
Regarding the knee injury and being on the PUP list, McClain said it’s a just a matter of the Cowboys trying to make sure he’s fully healthy and ready to go for the long haul.
He played through the injury all of last season and they don’t want any setbacks.
“We’re not putting a target (date) on it,” McClain said. “So the most important thing is being comfortable and not just me being comfortable but them comfortable with where my knee is and the plan to make sure that it’s at a great percentage for the whole year, not just training camp or a specific game. So the best thing is taking it day by day, making sure we don’t have any setbacks and having a good day and keep stacking good days on top of each other.”
The biggest obstacle for McClain will be handling the four-game suspension once the season starts. Training won’t be a problem. Staying mentally engaged will be a challenge.
“To miss a game and four games, it’s going to be tough,” McClain said. “I’m going to do my best to keep my mind in it. I know I will be working hard to stay ready for it. The toughest thing will be to keep my mind right during.”
When he does return, McClain said he will be raring to go and ready to build on a 2014 season when he finished with a career-high 108 tackles.
“I always think highly of myself,” McClain said. “Don’t matter what you guys or anybody else expected of me. I have my own expectations for myself. At the end of the day, whatever the outcome is, as long as you can look yourself in the mirror and say ‘hey, I gave 100 percent,’ I can live with that. That’s what I want to do. Get my knee healthy. Keep my mind right throughout the suspension and throughout training camp and be able to go out and play good football for my teammates.”
He’s especially excited about the prospect of playing next to weakside linebacker Sean Lee, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. They are arguably the most talented linebacker tandem the team has had in years.
“I think about it all of the time. All of the time,” a smiling McClain said of playing with Lee. “Y’all will have to wait and see, but it will be fun.”