Terrell McClain - The Cowboys Best Defender So Far - And His Relationship With His Big Toe

ARLINGTON - In preparation for tonight's Bears at Cowboys game, I go 1-in-1 with maybe Dallas' best player on D, Terrell McClain - and his new best friend, his so-far-cooperative big toe.

Much has been written this week about the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line shuffle, and justifiably so. CHQ reported earlier in the week that tackle Tyrone Crawford might tonight be "butterfly'ed" as a left end, that rookie "baller" Maliek Collins should start inside and that young journeyman Jack Crawford might be the unorthodox choice to start at right end.

Lost in the news, though, has been the third-year Cowboy who teammates tell me has probably been Dallas' best defensive player so far this year: Terrell McClain.

"It always feels great to know I'm fully healthy and to be back out there going full-speed," the jovial McClain told me on Friday as he prepared to help 1-1 Dallas handle the 0-2 Bears tonight at AT&T Stadium.

"Full speed" hasn't really been part of the McClain vernacular during his time here. The 6-2, 300-pounder missed all of last season with a sprained big toe, and injuries have nagged him since arriving here before the 2014 season with a three-year, $3-million deal. The Cowboys’ faith in him is best-reflected in one of this offseason' semi-marquee moves, the four-year, $17-million contract given Eagles ex Cedric Thornton.

Thornton is in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's "Rushmen" rotation - but well behind the 28-year-old McClain.

I asked him if he and his big toe had made peace with one another.

"Yeah," McClain laughed. "Sometimes it gets to me, but I'm usually able to calm it down, for the most part."

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Thanks in part to McClain's skills as a run-stopper, the Cowboys kept it close in a Week 1 loss to the Giants, a 20-19 loss in which he had a D-line-best five tackles, including one for loss.

In Week 2, McClain started and finished the 27-23 win at Washington, this time controlling the opponent's ground game while each of the Crawfords recorded a sack.

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Marinelli called Terrell "a powerful man," but that's to be expected of a 1-technique tackle who just stuffs the run. But with Tyrone Crawford (the usual 2-tech guy in position to be an all-around playmaker) playing some end, we can look for McClain to line up at that other tackle spot, too.

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"Pretty much whatever it takes is fine by me," McClain told me. "I learned my rookie year (as a third-rounder with the Panthers) to be able to play both, about the importance of being able to play both. I'm ready, just in case a coach asks me to play 1 or asks me to play 3." 

The Bears, assuming they're without Jay Cutler at quarterback, figure to be a run-first team tonight. that, in addition to which foursome is playing well, seems a viable reason to have all this beef upfront.

But, McClain told me, "It will rotate around; some of it is part of the different packages we have for this week. Some of it is about run-stopping. And some is just "Marinelli Madness," him trying different things and seeing what combinations work."

So you get Marinelli, Terrell McClain and Terrell's Toe on the same page, and.  ...?

"And then comes Sunday," McClain said, "and we just let 'er rip!"


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