News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Reviews good for McClain

By Josh Cooper 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — It seems like every week, someone on Alabama's defense will praise Rolando McClain.

A true freshman linebacker from Decatur High, McClain started the Crimson Tide's first three games at middle linebacker, serving as the signal caller.

In the two games since then, injury has forced McClain to move to inside linebacker, with Prince Hall taking his old spot in the lineup. McClain has replaced inside linebacker Darren Mustin, who has had shoulder and thigh injuries.

"I have to give it to Rolando," Tide defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. "He's not your ordinary freshman. He's a guy who is going to run to the ball at 100 percent, and he's going to make his presence felt."

Even so, McClain has gotten mixed reviews from his coaches.

Following Alabama's 21-14 loss to Florida State on Saturday, Saban said that Mustin's injury caused some "confusion" on the first drive of the second half, when McClain was at inside linebacker and Prince Hall played in the middle.

Florida State drove 67 yards in eight plays and faced third down only twice. On one, the Seminoles needed only a yard from the Alabama 16-yard-line, and on another, Florida State required only 2 yards from the Alabama 7 before quarterback Xavier Lee found De'Cody Fagg in the end zone.

"A couple of guys were on different pages," Tide safety Rashad Johnson said. "Some guys were on one call, some guys were on another.

"(Florida State) made a couple of plays, got a little momentum on us, and we didn't come out with any intensity on the first drive."

Before the season started, McClain set lofty goals: freshman All-America, freshman All-SEC. In an interview with The Daily in May, McClain said, "I didn't go to Tuscaloosa for nothing."

He has had some great moments so far.

McClain leads Alabama with 41 tackles. He started his career in a big way with a helmet-popping hit on Western Carolina running back Willie Harper that made several TV highlight shows.

He also is one of nine true freshmen to start a season opener at Alabama since the NCAA made first-year players eligible for varsity competition in 1972.

This makes McClain's preseason predictions about himself seem prophetic.

"Coming in as a freshman, I know I have the size; I know I have the ability," McClain said at the time. "The coaches have a lot of faith in me. They think I can come in and play immediately. I want to come in as a freshman and take on the role of a leader."

While McClain may have greater versatility than the average freshman, he still is a freshman. Mustin, a senior, has more knowledge of the inside linebacker position and is expected to be near full strength this week.

But that McClain can play multiple linebacker positions this early in his career is taken as a good sign.

"Rolando is a really good player. He knows what to look for," Mustin said. "He practiced at that position all week during practice, so he knew what to expect. I think, all in all, he did a really good job."

Houston at Alabama

2 p.m

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