We hear all the time in sports that the most difficult aspect of talent evaluation is trying to get a reading on a player's desire. The hardest characteristic to measure is heart.

This came to mind Wednesday when Rolando McClain, drafted eighth overall in 2010 to provide the heart of the Raiders' defense, announced he is finished with football. The former linebacker is 23 years old.

This is, in retrospect, only slightly more surprising than the news in April that McClain was being released by the Raiders.

McClain's heart was never in the game. He was too comfortable with failure and he did not love football.

I had heard all kinds of theories from football people trying to explain McClain's struggles in the NFL. A former Pro Bowl defensive player still involved in the game insisted McClain was miscast in Oakland's 4-3 defensive alignment.

"He's in the wrong defense," the retired player said. "Put that boy in a 3-4 and watch him go."

I was not convinced. McClain did not seem fully engaged. I watched his subpar game speed and wondered whether he was slow or uncommitted. It might have been both.

Relaying the former Pro Bowl player's comments about McClain to another retired NFL player provided for me a great deal of clarity.

"I don't care if he's in a 3-4, a 4-3, a 5-2 or a 2-5," he said. "A playmaking 'backer will find a way to make plays. When I watch Rolando, I don't see it. I just don't see it."


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McClain never was an impact player in Oakland. With his low production and tendency to get in trouble with the law, he was as invisible on the field as he was infamous off it.

That he was the centerpiece of Alabama's defense when it won the national championship during the 2009 season -- and a unanimous All-American -- it seemed a smart, logical move for the Raiders to draft him.

It's hard to imagine McClain passing every personality test. He was a linebacker, for crying out loud. That's one position where the heart for the game should be evident.

One only hopes McClain engages his head and becomes a solid member of society.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/1montepoole.