Cowboys Lee + McClain: A Shared Vision
The Dallas Cowboys employ a pair of star-caliber linebackers in Sean Lee and Rolando McClain who, for wildly different reasons, have never been on the field together.
But rather than count up what separates them, let's count up what bonds them.
"I think about that all of the time,'' said McClain of teaming up with Lee to create a dynamic linebacking tandem. "Y’all will have to wait and see, but it will be fun.”
Said Lee in a 1-on-1 with CowboysHQ.com: "Ro, and the way he played last year, was fantastic. It'd be great to have him on the same field with us this year, playing that way. We can really have fun together, for sure.''
"Fun'' is easy to forecast -- if the two standouts with spotty histories of being on the field can beat those odds. For Ro, it goes behind the knee injury that has him starting training camp on PUP. McClain has a well-earned reputation for being enigmatic and even uncooperative ... But he's also bright and introspective and clever, as he demonstrated when the gifted middle linebacker addressed his coming four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
“It’s life; I ain’t perfect,” McClain said. “Nobody else is. I am working on perfecting my flaws and getting back and being healthy and doing my best to put it behind me. ... “To miss a game and four games, it’s going to be tough. I’m going to do my best to keep my mind in it. I know I will be working hard to stay ready for it. The toughest thing will be to keep my mind right.''
Lee "ain't perfect,'' either, though his problems are completely physical. He missed all of last season with a fluke knee injury at OTAs, a continuation of odd ailments that he's struggles to play through.
"It's great to be out there on the practice field (this week) with the guys,'' said Lee, who will line up at the weakside linebacker this year, a concession to McClain's skills in the middle. "But it's just Step 1 and it's just practice.''
And the steps have been slow here. This has been a bubblewrap start to camp for Lee, as the head coach concedes.
“He’s made a lot of progress,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We don’t want big setbacks so we’ll kind of incrementally up his work and hopefully he can handle it and we’ll just keep making progress.”
Lee is beloved in the building for his devotion to the cause. McClain moves to the beat of a different drummer -- one of the reasons the Cowboys brought the former Raiders first-round pick back only on a cheap one-year contract. But McClain swears he feels appreciated by Dallas, too.
“The best thing about it was the warm welcome I got -- not only from Mr. (Jerry) Jones and the coaching staff but all of my teammates,” McClain said of coming back to the Cowboys this year after being lured out of retirement last summer in the wake of Lee's injury. “I didn’t know what the expectations were for me last year. But now that I see the ability that I have and not only that but the love and the passion I have for the game."
McClain and Lee also came out of college at the same time, Penn Stater Lee noted. And they share a football intellect, as Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus pointed out by telling the tale of giving tests to college linebackers who are aiming for the NFL. While with Cleveland, Eberflus presented to Lee and later to Alabama's McClain a 40-question linebacker test.
Only two players have ever scored as high as a 39 on the test. Those players: McClain and Lee.
"We've got a bunch of guys who are smart guys,'' said Lee in answering our question about how he's presently the defensive signal-caller. "Our linebacking corps features a lot of smart guys who can play a lot of positions.''
And while I'm a bit dubious about how soon or how often we'll see this dream team together on the field ... they are two smart guys who share a vision of "fun.''
New end Greg Hardy is having some fun poking at the Eagles but as hard as he works, going against Tyron Smith is no fun at all. Smith in these first few days has exhibited what coach Jason Garrett called "heavy hands'' in pounding and controlling all comers ... Joe Randle absolutely looks the part of a RB1 so far. Some technique issues in blocking, maybe, but he told me, "I'm boiling over'' to excel, and it shows. Jason Witten made it a point to compliment Randle on his newfound focus ... Witten, by the way, says he's thinking 'Super Bowl' -- and any Cowboys teammate who doesn't think that was should "leave.'' ... Tony Romo got that stye problem treated Friday, and while his left eye looks ugly, he's been good to go the last two days ... Morris Claiborne is getting a confidence boost by working with the first team, I think, and it's paying off. ... Orlando Scandrick and Cole Beasley have apparently informed one another that they'll have a slot-vs.-slot fight all summer. Good-natured stuff, but worth watching ... I think Dallas eventually needs to find snaps for Terrell McClain inside ... The Cowboys are trying to let Dez play his way into competitive situations. He's going along with it, but it's not his idea. “I was just knocking the rest off that’s all,'' he said. "You know I’m saying that as a joke though. It’s really no rust.” ... Lance Dunbar is getting the first shot at being the kick returner. But Lucky Whitehead is my guy here -- especially if he's as much of a weapon as a receiver as it seems so far. ... I wouldn't put much stock in it, as Jerry is coming off hip surgery. But at the annual training camp opening ceremony with dignitaries from the city of Oxnard, the two Cowboys execs who ran the show were Stephen and Charlotte. .... I hear ESPN is considering producing a 90-minute special to cover whether it is over-covering the coverage of Cowboys camp fight coverage. ... LB Justin Anderson (ankle) and G Reshod Fortenberry (knee) have been waived/injured by the Cowboys. They signed LBs Jonathan Brown and Ka’Lial Glaud ... Kicker Dan Bailey is already doing his thing. A perfect Saturday (6 of 6) and a near-perfect Sunday (5 of 6), by my count.
'We all got a shirt that says 'Fight.' Competition is what it's all about. Nobody competes more than Dez Bryant.'' -- Jason Witten, reflecting on the Dez vs. Patmon fight.
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