Out with the clown suit, in with the lab coat.
Can sanity in Oakland make a comeback?
Getting away from the weird and wacky decisions typically associated with their NFL draft work, the Raiders on Thursday were analytical, decisive and downright logical.
When neither of the two tackles they wanted — and needed to revive a snoozing offense — was available to take with the eighth overall pick, they adjusted ever so smoothly and chose a thumper for their tissue-soft run defense.
Rolando McClain was the best inside linebacker in college last season. He played at Alabama, which won the national title. He was the unquestioned leader for a malevolent Crimson Tide defense.
He was a three-year starter who as a junior last season was a unanimous All-American, first-team All-Southeastern Conference member and winner of the Butkus Award, symbolic of the nation's best linebacker.
At 6-foot-3, 254 pounds, McClain has the body of Junior Seau — and, by all accounts, the passion, dedication and inspirational presence of Ray Lewis.
McClain is, to be sure, no project in the mold of, say, Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Cup your ears and listen to the Hallelujah! It's coming from the Raider Nation.
"The guy made plays," coach Tom Cable said. "He made plays against the run, he made plays against the pass, he could cover."
Drafting McClain, however, is mostly about defending the run. The Raiders have spent
McClain is being brought in to fix that problem. Not by himself. But it has to start somewhere. He is to this draft was Patrick Willis was to the 2007 draft — a centerpiece linebacker around which a defense can be built.
"With this guy, probably one of his really unique qualities is the football IQ and his leadership," Cable said. "The ability to get others around him to come and enjoy studying the game like he does."
Indeed, tales about McClain bring to mind a young Lewis. Lewis has spent most of his career as the game's premier middle linebacker and is the primary reason the Baltimore Ravens have remained a fairly consistent contender, despite generally ordinary offenses. McClain, like Lewis, is perceived as someone who gets the most out of his teammates and coaches.
Asked what he can immediately add to the Raiders, McClain was quick to utter one of the magic words you want to hear from a young player.
"My intensity," he said. "Not just as a football player but as a leader and a friend and a teammate to those guys."
Cable described himself as "geeked" about the selection. Consider, though, this comes from an organization where the coach often parrots owner Al Davis. Skepticism is advised when listening to a Raiders coach praise a draft pick.
But Cable also exhibited candor and individuality uncommon for a man in his position. He conceded, for example, that McClain was not the team's first or second choice. Tackles Trent Williams and Russell Okung, though, were off the board, as were defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy.
"We couldn't get those guys we really liked," Cable said, acknowledging all were expected to be gone. "That's the way the draft goes. This became the next biggest need that was available to us."
Analytical, decisive and logical — and so conventional that it implies Davis either didn't bother trying to outsmart himself or he actually relied on his scouts. After the Heyward-Bey debacle last April, which left so many draftniks aghast, this was almost a surprise.
Under the circumstances, though, this was the way to go. McClain stands to be better at his position than tackles Anthony Davis and Bryan Bulaga will be at theirs. The need for an impact linebacker is nearly as great as the need for a reliable tackle.
He'll bring a take-charge mentality to a unit that too often has skirted accountability and has been too comfortable being easy on itself.
The sight of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell approaching the podium to announce the Raiders' first-round draft pick, was followed by a profound sense of reason.
This choice leaves no room for ridicule. There should be no silent exasperation from the fan base or gut-busting laughter from Denver, San Diego and Kansas City.
Drafting is an inexact science. All one can do is project. And McClain projects beautifully.
Contact Monte Poole at email@example.com.
Rolando McClain (25) with the No. 8 pick.