Garrett defends Rolando McClain's desire

IRVING, Texas -- The commitment of players who retire twice by the age of 25 tends to be questioned, particularly if he repeatedly misses practices due to minor ailments.

Is Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain unable to practice or just unwilling to push through pain after a year away from football? Does he really care about the chance to win a starting job?

McClain, who sat out Wednesday's practice due to cramps, wasn't available to answer those or any other questions during the media access period in the locker room. However, head coach Jason Garrett strongly supported the player the Cowboys recruited off his couch in July, saying the team made the "right decision" to rest McClain a day after he took first-team reps at middle linebacker.

Garrett also insisted that he could see that McClain, who missed a couple of practices during training camp with knee tendinitis, was motivated by the opportunity to start. How does he know?

"I have seen him practice," Garrett said. "Now, he, like everybody on our team, has to do it again and again and again. He has some things that have sidetracked him here for a day or two throughout training camp. But obviously being out at practice playing play after play, day after day matters. So hopefully he will have a chance to do that starting again [Thursday]."

The Cowboys clearly want McClain, the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, to claim the starting job at middle linebacker. But he's been sidelined by minor medical issues the following day both times he's worked with the starting defense.

No matter how talented McClain is, he can't win a starting job by hanging out in the weight room during practice.

Maybe McClain truly has rediscovered his desire to play football after being away from the game since November 2012. Only he truly knows that. But after the long layoff, there's no question that conditioning is a significant concern.

McClain was mostly impressive during his preseason debut with Dallas, recording six tackles, a forced fumble and a pass deflection to halt a drive. One particular sequence was telling, though.

After making a big hit inside the 5 by the Baltimore sideline, McClain got back on his feet, faced the Dallas bench and waved both hands over his head, looking like a guy on a stranded boat trying to get the attention of a passing ship. He was tired and wanted to tap out of the game.

The coaches either didn't see McClain -- yeah, right -- or ignored him, hoping to force him to fight through the fatigue. He went through the motions on the next snap, a touchdown run right at him.

That's kind of the way it's gone for McClain since he's joined the Cowboys. He'll give glimpses of his talent. He just hasn't been consistent.

The Cowboys can help McClain improve his conditioning if that's the issue. Two other franchises have failed to light a competitive fire under him.