A WITNESS reported seeing a car speeding away from the exclusive neighborhood where a suspicious fire gutted a mansion owned by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain outside Tuscaloosa, Ala., a police spokesman said yesterday.
Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Lt. Andy Norris said the vehicle could be a clue in the fire, which occurred Monday night, but investigators had yet to determine whether the blaze was accidental or purposely set.
County detectives and investigators from the state fire marshal's office were on the scene of the fire, which destroyed a six-bedroom, five-bath brick house that was listed for sale on real estate websites at $1.5 million.
A crime dog will be used to determine whether something was used as an accelerant to start the fire, Norris said.
"Any time you have a vacant house go up, particularly one of that value, you have to consider it suspicious," he said. "Every house in that neighborhood is probably over $1 million."
A spokesman for the Cowboys declined comment on the fire, and McClain was not immediately available for comment. The player tweeted about the fire, however: "It can't be real! To (sic) much of my 'history' in that house for it to be gone . . . "
McClain, 25, listed the house as his home address in a court document filed in September accusing his ex-wife of failing to give him adequate visitation time with their 3 1/2-year-old daughter.
The house sat on 4 acres of land beside Lake Tuscaloosa about 14 miles north of Tuscaloosa, where McClain played college football at the University of Alabama. The house had a three-car garage and a boat house on the shore.
McClain is making an NFL comeback with the Cowboys after legal scrapes that include his conviction in July on charges including resisting arrest.
* Johnny Manziel says he grew up during his first NFL season. Manziel, who will not play in Cleveland's season finale at Baltimore because of a hamstring injury, said that he's not the same person or quarterback who first entered the league. The hyped rookie says it was a mistake to come in with a "college mindset" and that he intends to take his job "a lot more seriously" in the future. Manziel didn't play well in his two starts, and the 22-year-old said he's motivated to improve in the offseason because "I want to be the guy here."
Brian Hoyer, the former starter who relieved Manziel Sunday, is not practicing because of a sore shoulder, raising the likelihood rookie Connor Shaw will start Sunday. Shaw took the initial snaps in practice followed by veteran Tyler Thigpen, who was signed earlier in the day as a backup. To make room for Thigpen, the Browns waived fullback Ray Agnew.
* The division-deciding games at Green Bay and Atlanta will be played late Sunday afternoon. The NFL moved the Lions-Packers game for the NFC North to 4:25 p.m. EST. It also put the Panthers-Falcons game in that time slot, but switched networks for that showdown for the NFC South crown to CBS. Detroit-Green Bay will be on Fox. The prime-time game is Cincinnati at Pittsburgh to decide the AFC North. Jacksonville at Houston was moved from late afternoon to 1 p.m. EST.
* Detroit center Dominic Raiola lost his appeal of a one-game suspension for stepping on Chicago defensive tackle Ego Ferguson's right ankle after a play. The league said this was the 14-year veteran's sixth rules violation related to player safety since 2010. Detroit plays at Green Bay on Sunday for the NFC North title.
* Baltimore put right tackle Rick Wagner on injured reserve with a Lisfranc foot injury that is expected to require surgery. Also going to the IR were Atlanta safety William Moore (shoulder), Chicago defensive end Willie Young (Achilles') and Washington linebacker Trent Murphy (broken hand).
* San Francisco outside linebacker Aldon Smith said that he visited Ray McDonald's home for a short time the day the ex-49ers defensive lineman is accused of sexually assaulting a woman. Smith said he didn't drink any alcohol and that he is regularly checked for sobriety. He served a nine-game suspension this year for violations of the NFL's substance abuse and personal-conduct policies. Court documents unsealed Monday said the encounter occurred Dec. 14, a few hours after the 49ers returned from a 17-7 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle. The woman stayed with McDonald at his home the next day and drank vodka with McDonald and Smith, according to the papers. That's when McDonald conceded that a sexual encounter occurred, according to the court documents. Smith said he did visit McDonald's San Jose home on Dec. 15.