Terrell McClain making good impression

IRVING, Texas -- IRVING, Texas – As he sat at his locker last week, Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Terrell McClain was wearing No. 97 preparing for some in-house media interviews with the team’s internet and television departments.

McClain will wear No. 97 this season, but the name on the back still read Hatcher. It was an old jersey, but a sign of the footsteps McClain is following.

Jason Hatcher had 11 sacks last season and joined the Washington Redskins as a free agent in March.

“I don’t want to say I’m more nose (tackle) than three (technique) but they have me at both watching what he did last year,” McClain said. “He was just dominating. Being able to come in and try to fill his shoes is going to be a big thing. But I like challenges and hopefully I’ll be able to make a big impact like he did last year.

The Cowboys enter the final week of their offseason program with their mandatory minicamp this week, and McClain has earned notice.

“He’s one of those guys who doesn’t say anything to anybody,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s just quiet and goes to work every day, but he’s absolutely one of the guys who is showing up the most in these (OTA) practices. He has great intensity in all that he does. He flashes some ability. We really like how he goes about his business.”

The Cowboys signed McClain to a three-year deal with just a $300,000 signing bonus after the Houston Texans chose not to tender him an offer as a restricted free agent. Last year the Cowboys looked at past pedigree in signing defensive linemen during the season, adding former high picks like Everette Brown, Marvin Austin, Corvey Irvin and Martez Wilson with varying degrees of success.

McClain was a third-round pick in 2011 by the Carolina Panthers. He lasted just one full season and had one sack. He spent 2012 with the New England Patriots and Houston Texans, and last year had 10 tackles in 16 games as a reserve for the Texans.

“Just getting back into the 4-3 system and being able to come off the ball, flying around, making plays, it’s been good,” McClain said.

With Henry Melton being held out of team drills as he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, McClain has been working mostly at the three-technique. He will likely see more time during the season as the nose tackle.

That versatility was attractive to the Cowboys, too.

“Being that 4-3 nose, you’re not just sitting on the line, holding up two guards,” McClain said. “They want him up the field, have him doing some movement going from A-gap to A-gap to the B-gap. In the 3-4 we’re just keeping two linemen off the linebackers making sure they’re making the plays. It’s a big difference.”

When the Cowboys signed George Selvie last summer, not much was known or expected from the defensive end. He ended up starting every game and picking up seven sacks. McClain and Selvie were teammates at South Florida.

“Being able to actually watch what he did last year really made a big part of (signing with the Cowboys),” McClain said. “Seeing that he’s still got it, making so many plays last year, that kind of motivated myself to come in and also make a lot of plays. Just like old time.”