This offseason, the Raiders decided to invest their first two draft picks in sturdy, run-stopping defensive players.
Defensive tackle turned defensive end Lamarr Houston immediately impressed, as he and the Raiders' defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage during the preseason.
The Raiders' first pick of the 2010 draft, however, did not have quite as quick a start.
One of Rolando McClain's highlights of the preseason was when he overran a play, giving Matt Forte a huge hole to run through on his way to an 89-yard score. McClain spent much of the preseason looking hesitant and slow to the ball.
In the Raiders' first game of the season, McClain looked fine but was nothing impressive. He finished the game tied for second on the team with six tackles but did not seem to impact the game.
The start of the home opener against the St. Louis Rams went pretty much the same way. McClain was getting tackles here and there, but none were anything to talk about.
Then, in what almost seemed like an expression of his own frustration, McClain picked up St. Louis wide receiver Danny Amendola and slammed him to the ground. Yes, McClain was flagged for the play, but it didn't seem to matter. McClain had made a statement. He was sick of watching the game go on around him and was ready to start impacting the game.
McClain finished the game against the Rams with a team-leading six tackles and was starting to look like a real leader of the defense.
In their third game of the season, the Raiders traveled down to Arizona to face the Cardinals. There were two stories that surrounded the lead-up to the game. The first was the start of Oakland quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, and the second was the 2010 debut of Beanie Wells.
After Arizona running back Tim Hightower ran for 115 yards in their Week 2 game, many believed that the return of Wells meant it was going to be a long day for the Raiders' run defense, but Rolando McClain had something different in mind.
Right from the start of the game, the Cardinals were never able to get their run game really going. With the loss of Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin during the offseason, the Cardinals wanted to have a pounding run game be the new identity of the team.
Throughout the game, the Cardinals made a concerted effort to run on early downs. On many of those occasions, the Arizona running back was met in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage by a wall known as Rolando McClain.
While Arizona finished the game with over a hundred yards on the ground, they were never able to establish a strong run game that would open up passing lanes for quarterback Derek Anderson.
Watching Rolando McClain, you could see that he was attacking plays rather than letting them come to him. As soon as the ball was snapped, McClain was on his horse, finding the ball carrier. These were the type of plays that the Raiders envisioned McClain making when they picked him with the No. 8 pick of the 2010 draft.
McClain has steadily been improving since the first down of football he played in the NFL during the preseason. Today, McClain looks like he made another big step forward in his progression. If McClain continues to improve every week, he will be a serious force that offenses will need to deal with late in the season.