IRVING, Texas – Listening to some tape from the Dallas Cowboys’ minicamp offers some perspective on the team’s move to trade for linebacker Rolando McClain.
After one minicamp practice, I asked linebackers coach Matt Eberflus if the starting middle linebacker was currently on the roster.
“We’re going to coach the guys on the grass and find out what goes on from there,” Eberflus said.
McClain wasn’t at minicamp and wasn’t even in the picture, as he had filed retirement papers with the NFL. It wasn’t until he asked the league to be reinstated last week that McClain became an option for the Cowboys.
But to think McClain, who has not played in a game since November 2012 with the Oakland Raiders, can step on the field as a starter early in training camp in Oxnard, California, is asking too much. The first goal is that he passes the conditioning test on the first day. He needed two tries to pass a conditioning test with the Baltimore Ravens earlier in the spring before he decided to retire for a second time.
When the Cowboys open camp, Justin Durant will likely be the first-team middle linebacker. He took the first-team snaps in the minicamp and during most of the organized team activities after Sean Lee suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
But let’s go back to the tape from minicamp again.
Durant was asked if the Mike linebacker spot was his strongest.
“My strongest?” he said. “Probably not, just because I’m not as familiar with middle as outside.”
Eberflus was asked the same question.
“The great thing about Justin is he can play all positions,” Eberflus said. “I don’t know if that’s his strongest position, but I don’t know that it’s not his strongest position.”
Durant had his most productive game of the season against New Orleans after taking over for Lee, who suffered a hamstring injury, finishing with seven tackles before also hurting his hamstring. He missed the next three games before starting the Green Bay contest. He made two tackles before getting hurt again, ending his season.
He said he played middle linebacker for a year and a half with the Jacksonville Jaguars as well as in college.
“I’ve just got to revert to my old ways,” he said.
He cross-trained at the position last year, but now the job is full-time. The angles are different. What he sees is different.
“In the middle, you’ve got to see both sides of the field,” he said. “If you’re outside, you’re just focused on your side.”
Eberflus and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli like what Durant did last year. He missed six games with hamstring and groin injuries but finished with 30 tackles, two tackles for loss, two pressures, a pass break-up and a forced fumble.
“I think that’s a real good fit for him,” Eberflus said. “He’s an intelligent young man. He plays the game in a smart way and he’s able to communicate and make the calls. The more he’s in there, the better off he feels and he’s making progress.”