McClain Reveals Health Issue

Ordinarily, there are not many surprises at a Pro Day event. That's the day that scouts and coaches from National Football League teams land on a college campus for the purpose of putting potential professional players through a battery of tests. As Alabama has improved from a mediocre team to the national champion, the level of interest in the event has increased.



That's why all 32 NFL teams had coaches and scouts in attendance at Alabama Wednesday to measure and weigh, and then watch about a dozen and a half recent members of the Crimson Tide do the runs and jumps and presses and other football-related drills in the continuing process of finding pro talent.

As often as not, the hard news is limited. All the players say they thought they did well and improved themselves. The occasional scout or coach–Carolina Head Coach John Fox was among those on hand in Alabama's Hank Crisp Indoor Facility Wednesday–made available for comment will say that several of the players were impressive.

But there was news Wednesday when Rolando McClain, the top player in the workouts, said that he had been battling Crohn's disease since before he came to Alabama. Crohn's disease is on ongoing disorder of the digestive tract, considered to be without cure, though treatable with drugs and diet. Obviously, McClain has been able to cope. He is 6-4 and 259 and was winner of the Butkus Award and the Lambert Trophy, both given to the nation's finest linebacker, as a junior last season.

McClain also said that he had "tweaked" his hamstring in the Tennessee game last year and that not even his teammates knew about it as he rehabilitated it through Alabama's 14-0 season.

McClain said that he had hoped to run a 4.5 40-yard dash as a personal goal. He said he thought he had run "somewhere in the 4.6 range." He added that at "6-4, 259, a 4.6 is fine. The 4.5 was just my personal goal. It doesn't matter on the field as long as you can get sideline to sideline."

McClain said he would continue to work, training and rehabilitating.

"What I wanted to do today was show 32 teams what I would do to compete," McClain said. "That's what I've been doing my entire college career, fighting through things."

He said, "I got good feedback" from the NFL personnel. "Everyone liked the way I worked," he said.

McClain said having played under Coach Nick Saban had helped him immensely. "He's one of the best defensive coaches," McClain said. "He helped me understand so much football, defensive but also offensive."

Former Alabama defensive end John Mitchell, known particularly for having been the first African-American to play varsity football at Alabama in 1971 and 1972, was observing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he is assistant head coach and defensive line coach. "Obviously when you win a national championship, there are a lot of good players," Mitchell said. None of the NFL personnel would comment on specific players. "You can see by the number of (NFL) people here that Alabama has good players. Some of them will be drafted high."

Just a few weeks ago, people were writing nose tackle Terrence Cody off because he showed up at the Senior Bowl weighing 370. But he was down to 354 at the NFL combine in Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago. And Wednesday he was at 348.

"He could be one of the rabbits now," said Alabama Coach Nick Saban. Throughout Cody's career, the nose tackle had wanted to be a third down player. And throughout his career Saban said he could be a third down player if he would get down to 348 "because I didn't think he could ever get there," Saban said Wednesday. Those players on pass rush are known as "rabbits."

Cody said, "I'd give myself an ‘A' or an ‘A-minus'. I could have done a little better in some drills." He said that the main thing he had done was convince skeptics that he could be disciplined regarding his weight. He said he used both diet and exercise to get back into shape.

"You have to be motivated," he said. "You have to be committed."

By money?

"Money, yes, but mainly I like to play football," he said.

Cody thinks he can be a "top 10 or top 15" draft choice in the first round.

And where will he be on draft day?

"Probably having my draft party at Coach Saban's house," he said.

Saban made his way around the work stations, talking to the players and to NFL personnel. The Tide coach recalled his days as a defensive backfield coach for the Cleveland Browns and being one of the evaluators in the Crisp Indoor Facility working out former Tide stars such as Antonio Langham and George Teague in the early 1990s.

Saban said it appeared to him that the Tide players participating in the Pro Day event had worked well and "seem to have done good for themselves. I'm glad we have so many."

Saban said the work of the players in going undefeated in 14 games in 2009 is important, but said the NFL also puts a lot of stock in measurements. He pointed out the pro scouts know from over the years about players at positions and their size and speed and other measurements and how those players have worked out. He said some teams are production-oriented (what a prospect has done in his college playing career) and some are measurement-oriented, and that the evaluation generally is "a combination of both."

Cornerback Kareem Jackson, who is skipping his final year of college eligibility to go to the NFL draft, helped himself a great deal at the NFL combine when he ran a 4.3 40 and did not participate in all work Wednesday. "I knew there would be some questions about me, but I didn't know it was going to be about my speed," Jackson said.

He said he was fortunate to work under Saban, who coaches Alabama cornerbacks. "We played an NFL type defense, so I feel I had an advantage over a lot of others," he said.

Another Alabama cornerback, Javier Arenas, did not take part in work "except getting weighed." He is recovering from a hamstring pull and will work at one of the other workout days in a few weeks."

In addition to McClain and Cody, former Alabama players working out Wednesday included outside linebacker Eryk Anders, cornerback Marquis Johnson, offensive guard Mike Johnson, wide receiver Mike McCoy, tight end Colin Peek, outside linebacker Cory Reamer, cornerback Chris Rogers, safety Ali Sharrief, tailback Roy Upchurch, defensive end Lorenzo Washington, and safety Justin Woodall. Also participating were placekicker Leigh Tiffin and punters P.J. Fitzgerald and Heath Thomas, along with walkon running back Jacob Vane.

The only 2009 seniors with substantial playing time who did not participate were right tackle Drew Davis, defensive end Brandon Deaderick, fullback Baron Huber, and defensive back Tyrone King.

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