Crimson Tide in the NFL: Former star linebackers could be facing career-ending issues
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With just five segments left in our look at the 2015 seasons for former Alabama players, we continue on the defensive side of the ball. These two linebackers had great careers in Tuscaloosa and showed that they had the talent to play at the next level. Today, we will take a glimpse into the careers and futures of two NFC East linebackers, Rolando McClain and Demeco Ryans.
Rolando McClain, Dallas Cowboys, Linebacker
6’4″, 259 pounds
1 year, $2.81 million
McClain was a part of the 2009 national championship team at Alabama and lead the team with 105 tackles that included 14.5 for a loss and 4.0 sacks. He was a unanimous All-American selection and he won the Dick Butkus Award, which is given to the nation’s best linebacker. McClain was drafted by the Raiders with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft and played in Oakland for three seasons. His best season of his career came with the Raiders in 2011 when he lead the team with 99 tackles and added 5.0 sacks, 14 pass deflections and a safety. His playing time in Oakland began to go down in 2012 when the defense was the worst in the NFL. McClain only started nine games and was officially released the following offseason. He was signed by the Ravens but retired just a month later and took the 2013 season off.
McClain was brought out of retirement by Baltimore but was then traded to Dallas for draft picks. McClain played a huge role in the resurgence of the defense in Dallas that had been struggling in recent seasons. He finished last season with 81 tackles, two interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble in 13 games for the Cowboys. He started 12 of those games and looked set to be a Cowboy for a couple of more seasons before having knee surgery in May that has kept him on the sideline during the preseason. He has not yet practiced with the team but the Cowboys’ staff is confident that he would be ready to play in the season opener against the Giants. However, McClain has been suspended for four games due to violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Assuming McClain is healing like he should, the Cowboys will get him back in week 5 for the home game against New England (which could be Tom’ Brady’s return too).
Demeco Ryans, Philadelphia Eagles, Linebacker
6’1″, 247 pounds
2 years, $7.5 million
Ryans is entering his 10th season in the NFL, his fourth in Philadelphia. Ryans was another unanimous All-American that played at Alabama and was a Butkus Award finalist his senior season. He was taken with the first pick of the second round by the Texans in the 2006 NFL Draft and he immediately became a leader on the new team’s defense. Ryans won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006, finishing second in the league with 155 tackles, and was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2007. Over the course of six years in Houston, the Bessemer native started 86 regular season games for the Texans, only missing 10 games in 2010 with an Achilles injury. Ryans lost his starting job going into the 2012 season and was traded to the Eagles for a fourth-round draft pick.
In 2012, Ryans played in 100 percent of defensive snaps for Philadelphia and finished the season 148 tackles with 16.0 tackles for a loss. The following season, he saw some extra rest, playing just 96 percent of the Eagles’ defensive plays. Ryans finished that year with 177 total tackles, including four sacks and two interceptions, helping his team win the NFC East. Last season, he played in eight games before tearing his Achilles on an interception return against his former team. Ryans was place on the injured reserve and missed the final eight games. The Eagles went 4-4 without Ryans and gave up 29 points per game over the last eight weeks of the season, missing out on the playoffs.
Ryans returns to Philadelphia for the 2015 season and is expected to be ready for the season opener. He hasn’t seen any playing time in the preseason but the veteran is still listed as a starter at the inside linebacker position and he expects to be 100 percent for the game against Atlanta. Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks could also get the starting jobs depending on Ryans health but all three will see significant playing time. The Eagles play the Packers tonight at 7 CST before finishing the preseason against the Jets next Thursday. Ryans may see some playing but don’t expect to see much until the real season begins.