15 July 2008
Rolando McClain – #25 - LB – 6-4 – 255 lbs. – Decatur, AL – Decatur HS – 1 Varsity Letter
Rolando was the first Alabama linebacker since Saleem Rasheed to start his the first game of his true freshman season. That initial burst on to the scene quickly shot Rolando up the charts as a fan favorite, and blinded a lot of fans to some of the early season struggles that he had in 2007.
Some of Bama’s early opponents, specifically Georgia, took advantage of Rolando’s inexperience, and came right after him. Georgia scored 2 TDs on middle screens to their running backs where an out of position Rolando chased the ball carrier into the end zone instead of stopping the play.
But there were reasons that Rolando started those early games, and those reasons went beyond the early season suspension of Prince Hall. Rolando is a gifted athlete, who reported to campus as a physical specimen, ready to play in the SEC. The mental side of the game takes longer, and really good teams (like Georgia) take advantage of inexperience. That is something that Bama fans need to wrap their mind around as the likelihood of several freshman linebackers logging significant time in 2008 is extremely high.
It would probably shock people to know that in Bama’s last 7 games, Rolando failed to record a tackle twice (Ole Miss & Mississippi State), and he only had 1 tackle in the Tide’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
So why the excitement about Rolando in 2008?
- 8 tackles against Arkansas
- 11 tackles against Georgia
- 9 tackles against Florida State
- 7 tackles against LSU
- 15 tackles against Auburn
In games against Bama’s biggest opponents, Rolando had his best games. He finished the season overall 4th on the team with 75 tackles. And while there were inconsistencies - to be expected from a true freshman - he played his best game late in the season against Auburn. Against the Tigers, he was the best defender on the field for the Tide.
2008 Prospectus: That freshman inconsistency has to be gone. With Alabama’s linebacker corps being frighteningly thin Rolando is the only returning starter. That means it is essential that he be a factor in every game. As the defensive line hopefully handles its role better in 2008, more plays should funnel to the linebackers, especially those in the middle.
While Rolando is a sure bet to be a starter in Bama’s 1st game against Clemson, there is a possibility that he could see time at both the MIKE and WILL positions. He played the MIKE all last season, and it is likely that he will man that spot for the Tide again in 2008. According to reports from the Tide’s summer practice, however, the most “ready to play” of all of the incoming freshman linebackers is Dont’a Hightower, whose projected position is likely the MIKE. If Hightower demonstrated the ability to play the MIKE at a high level, don’t be surprised to see Rolando move to the WILL.
In Nick Saban’s defense the linebackers are the playmakers. With Rolando’s rare combination of size and athleticism, he is a perfect fit for the interior LB positions in this 3-4 defensive set. It is crucial that he build on his great Auburn game and become the reliable defender that he was in that game.
He is the only LB on Bama’s defense with any real game experience, and he will be relied upon heavily. As the season rolled on last year, he became more involved in pass coverage; that will likely be the case again in 2008. Coverage is the hardest aspect of the defense for a linebacker to learn. Rolando being able to fulfill that role will allow the younger, less experienced guys to concentrate on the easier parts of the position.
Between Lance Thompson and Kevin Steele he is getting some of the best coaching at his position in the country. A year of experience under his belt should have worked wonders for Rolando, and I fully expect that we will see him as the Tide’s leading tackler in 2008, likely with a total in excess of 100.
He will likely make several pre-season All-SEC teams, though many of those will likely be of the 2nd or 3rd team variety. At season’s end I expect we’ll see him as a consensus 1st team All-SEC player.
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