ALAMEDA -- The Raiders made bye week changes that resulted in an improved defensive performance against the Atlanta Falcons. The biggest byproduct: a much lesser role for middle linebacker Rolando McClain.
He was replaced by rookie fourth-round draft pick Miles Burris in the nickel defense.
He was replaced by strongside linebacker Philip Wheeler as the defensive signal caller.
In the short term, that means McClain will be playing less -- much less in games where the Raiders use a lot of alignments calling for two linebackers and five defensive backs.
Two weeks after playing 74 out of 78 defensive snaps against Denver, McClain was on the field for 17 of 55 snaps against Atlanta. He was on the field for an average of 68 snaps through the first four games.
In the long term, it puts McClain's future with the Raiders in jeopardy based on a rate of pay commensurate with a Butkus Award winner out of Alabama -- a player who was supposed to be the centerpiece of the defense based on his No. 8 overall selection in the 2010 NFL draft.
His salary is scheduled to jump from $970,000 to $4 million in 2013, more than the Raiders would likely pay a part-time player.
For the time being, the Raiders are emphasizing that McClain's play in the reduced role against Atlanta was very good, rather than look to the future. Coach Dennis Allen said McClain had his best game "on a per play basis."
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said
McClain stuffed Atlanta's Jason Snelling for a 1-yard loss on a third-and-goal play at the 1-yard line, forcing a 20-yard field goal attempt by Matt Bryant. He said Thursday he had a ratio of an "impact-type of play" every one and a half snaps.
"I think that's pretty danged good," McClain said. "They wanted Miles to go in. That's perfectly fine with me. The situation is what it is."
McClain's play, particularly in one-sided losses to Miami and Denver, has been criticized by CSN California Raiders analyst and former NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski, who in colorful terms has questioned his desire and attitude.
"I don't keep up with what people say outside here. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion," McClain said. "I'm sure if I knew him, I could say things about him. I don't. I don't righteously care."
Allen said the coaching staff determined they would get more out of McClain by playing him less.
"I think when we went back and looked and saw how many plays that Rolando was playing, it had a factor in his conditioning. We felt like him not playing quite as many plays would help him to play better and be more effective."
Whether McClain agrees or not, he won't say.
"It makes my job easy, just focus on the base (defense) and go from there," McClain said. "You understand the situation ... you're not naive to the fact of what's going on. But at the same time you're still a team player. If Coach thinks that's the best thing for the defense, then by all means do it. I can focus on the base downs, and that's what I put my energy toward."
Wheeler said he was proud of how Burris performed in a full-time role and said of McClain, "He handled it well. He stepped up and played when he was called upon, and he made a couple of great plays in base. I think he played well, and he's stepping it up."
Chances are McClain will see more action against a run-first Jacksonville team, with the Raiders playing more base 4-3 defense.