Soph McClain Veteran Of Linebacker Corps

Rolando McClain has a new respect for motorcycles. What he doesn't have is a motorcycle. His Suzuki JSR 1000 was totaled on May 8 when he swerved to avoid another vehicle and had the motorcyle spin out for under him in his hometown of Decatur. McClain had a rough encounter with the asphalt.



The motorcycle was destroyed, but fortunately for Alabama football Rolando McClain is a tough guy. He's back to "about 98 per cent," he said Sunday morning, showing off scarred hands and arms from the abrasions. McClain, a 6-4, 255-pound middle linebacker, was at Bryant-Denny Stadium with his teammates Sunday for the third practice of fall camp. It was also Fan Day, making for a long day with autographs scheduled for after the practice.

"My mom won't let me say I was lucky," McClain said of his avoiding more serious injury in his accident. "I was blessed. Now I'm the poster child for not riding a motorcycle."

McClain probably will have another motorcyle one day, he said. He has ridden dirt bikes and four-wheelers in the past. And when he finished his first year of college, a Freshman All-America and a Southeastern Conference Freshman Academic Team member, he knew what he wanted. "It was being 18," he said. If he buys another one it will possibly be with his pro football signing bonus money.

"I don't know if you'd say Coach Saban made them against the rules," McClain said, "but he told me not to ride one again."

McClain said that Alabama Coach Nick Saban showed great concern for McClain upon hearing of the accident. McClain said he got excellent care at Decatur General Hospital. He had mostly bed rest for a couple of weeks. "I had a bike in my house, and Jeff (Alabama Football Trainer Jeff Allen) wanted me riding it. Not a motorbike," he added.

He said he also had nightmares about the accident for awhile, "but I'm over it now."

Alabama has a shortage of linebackers, and Saban wouldn't want to be without McClain, although McClain down-played that. "If he didn't have me, he would have gone out and recruited someone else," the sophomore said. McClain is a pre-season All-SEC selection. Last year he had 75 tackles, including a season-high 15 at Auburn. He also had five tackles for loss, a sack, four pass break-ups, three quarterback hurries and two interceptions. He had an outstanding game in the Independence Bowl win over Colorado in spite of having to play with a broken thumb.

He started eight games at middle linebacker as a freshman and generally split time with 2006 starter Prince Hall at the position.

Last year McClain was accompanied in Bama's three-four defense by weakside linebacker Darren Mustin, strongside linebacker Ezekial Knight, and jack linebacker Keith Saunders. As Alabama prepares for its opening game against Clemson, McClain doesn't have Mustin and Saunders, who have graduated. He doesn't have Knight who has been forced to give up football at Alabama for health reasons. He doesn't even have Hall for the moment, Hall having been suspended for the first three games of the year. He doesn't even have Jimmy Johns, the former tailback who was the talk of spring practice because of his move to linebacker and the talk of summer because of his arrest on drug trafficking charges that resulted in his dismissal from the team.

And so at 19 (he celebrated that birthday two weeks ago), Rolando McClain is the veteran of the linebacker corps.

"I feel a lot better going into practice this year because I know the defense," McClain said. "It's a lot less stressful. The hardest part of it is the learning. Fortunately, I've been blessed to be able to pick things up pretty quickly. I'm relaxed, so I can play faster because I see things faster."

McClain said that was important last year. "I had to be a leader when I came here," he said. "It's a challenge for a young linebacker. I try to help the guys around me as much as I can because I know what they are going through."

McClain's position coach is Kevin Steele, who is also assistant head coach for defense. "I love Coach Steele," McClain said. "He's wired like me. He goes hard all the time."

Steele said Sunday that McClain "is very, very intelligent. He's intelligent in the classroom and he's intelligent on the football field. He understands the game through a coach's eyes. And then he has that size and speed, and that can be a lethal combination.

"He's confident because he understands. He's an upbeat guy who has applied his personality to helping the other guys."

McClain said he hopes that by knowing his assignments, Steele "doesn't have to coach me and he can spend that time coaching other guys."

Saban has noted that freshmen such as Jerrell Harris, Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw may have to provide immediate depth. McClain said, "I give those guys all an ‘A.' They have worked hard and studied hard to learn their assignments. Coach Saban and his coaches went out and got a great group of linebackers. They are giving great effort to get better. They want to learn it all."

McClain said that learning process was a "series of stepping stgones. You have to learn one play at a time. That's all you can do."

McClain said he wasn't worried about the team being ready for Clemson. "Coach Saban will have us ready," he said. "We have to be concerned with right now."

McClain said he is working at middle linebacker with Hall and Hightower.

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