Rolando McClain arrived in Oakland two years ago expected to be the impact middle linebacker who could transform a Raiders defense that had struggled for years to stop the run.
Less than halfway through his third season with the Raiders, McClain has been relegated to spot duty. McClain is now only being used in base defensive packages, playing a season-low 17 defensive plays last week in Atlanta.
While McClain figures to get more time Sunday against the more run-oriented Jacksonville Jaguars, he will remain a part-time player for the time being.
"It makes my job easy, just focus on base whenever that is and go from there," McClain said Thursday. "You understand the situation, you understand the transition whatever that may be. You're not naive to the fact of what's going on. But at the same time you're still a team player. If coach thinks that's the best thing for the defense then by all means do it. I can focus on the base downs and that's what I put my energy toward."
A heralded college star at Alabama who helped the Crimson Tide win a national championship, McClain came to Oakland as the eighth overall pick in 2010.
But he has failed to produce, recording just 5½ sacks, one interception, no forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries in 35 career games.
McClain averaged about 68 defensive snaps a game the first four weeks, staying on the field in almost all of Oakland's alignments. But the coaches reassessed things during the bye week and decided to take McClain out of the nickel package.
That led him to play only 17 of 55 defensive snaps last week in a 23-20 loss at Atlanta.
"I think when we went back and looked and saw how many plays that Rolando was playing, it had a factor in his conditioning," coach Dennis Allen said. "We felt like him not playing quite as many plays would help him to play better and be more effective, and I think it had that effect in this game."
Allen said McClain had his most productive game on a per play basis this season in the limited time, with his biggest contribution coming when he stopped Jason Snelling for a 1-yard loss on third down from the 1 late in the third quarter.
"You make the plays that are there to make," McClain said. "Every ball doesn't come into your area. Every run doesn't come your way. You're not able to make every tackle."
With McClain set to make more than $4 million next year and a possible suspension for legal trouble off the field looming, he could be in his final season with the Raiders.
McClain was convicted in May in Decatur, Ala., of third-degree assault, menacing, reckless endangerment and discharging a firearm in the city limits and was sentenced to 180 days in jail. McClain is appealing the conviction to Morgan County Circuit Court and will have a jury trial, likely after the season. The NFL has not yet determined if McClain will be punished by the league.
The Raiders were forced into a five defensive back set much of last week against the Falcons, who often spread the field out with three wide receivers. That doesn't figure to be the case Sunday.
Jacksonville has a struggling second-year quarterback in Blaine Gabbert and an elite runner in Jones-Drew so it figures the Jaguars will stick with the run game and McClain will get more time.
The last time these two teams met, the Jaguars ran for 234 yards in a 38-31 victory that McClain missed with a foot injury.
"All I remember is them running the ball," McClain said. "You have to take that personally. We have to go out and try to at least stop that run. If you don't do anything else, stop the run, let them know you can't do this two times in a row."
The demotion of McClain led to significantly more playing time for rookie outside linebacker Miles Burris, who had been leaving the field in nickel situations the first four games.
It also meant that outside linebacker Philip Wheeler had to take on additional responsibility. Wheeler was given the "green dot" helmet, allowing him to hear the defensive calls from an assistant coach on the sideline, and made the calls on the field for the Raiders.
Wheeler said he made defensive calls in college but had never before done it in the pros.
"It makes me work harder," Wheeler said. "It's forced me to get in the film room more, so I can make better calls and do what's right for the defense, and I'm up to the job."
NOTES: CB Shawntae Spencer (sprained right foot) is off crutches for the first time since getting hurt in Week 2 in Miami but is not yet ready to practice. ... RB Taiwan Jones did not practice after banging his knee Wednesday. ... RT Khalif Barnes (groin) and TE Richard Gordon remain sidelined. ... LB Aaron Curry, who began the season on the physically unable to perform list because of injured knees, practiced for a second straight day. ... The Raiders have been granted a one-day extension from the league to sell enough tickets to avoid a local blackout of Sunday's game.
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