His potential present

But 2nd-year fullback's conditioning, consistency often missing

Le'Ron McClain

August 12, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

Known for delivering big hits, Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain looked like the one who had been knocked out a couple of weeks ago.

With his arms draped over two trainers, McClain needed to be helped off the field after his first training camp practice because he was out of shape.

"It wasn't pretty scenery," Ravens running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery said.

It's scenes like these that make it hard to see the big picture when it comes to McClain.

There are times when he shows flashes of being a great fullback, bulling his way for a touchdown in the preseason opener and hammering defensive players with devastating blocks.

And there are times when he struggles to keep in shape and gripes about certain blocking techniques.

"The difficult part is getting him to reach his potential," Montgomery said. "Le'Ron can be one of the top five fullbacks in the NFL if he applies himself to his job and to the team."

A fourth-round pick last season, McClain is the prototypical size for a fullback at 6 feet, 260 pounds. What makes McClain stand out is that he is far from being a prototypical fullback.

With speed and great hands, McClain can be a threat running the ball and catching out of the backfield. Based on practices and the first preseason game, McClain should have a bigger role in the offense and perhaps a different job description than fullback.

"I really want to be called just 'a back' because I can do a lot more than just blocking," McClain said.

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who has gone head-to-head with some of the best fullbacks in the league, sees that same versatility.

"He's a fullback with tailback ability," Lewis said.

Still, McClain takes pride in opening holes for Willis McGahee and Ray Rice.

With good balance and strength, he has a great punch and sustains blocks. McClain said he takes as much satisfaction from knocking someone down with a hit as he does in scoring a touchdown.

"I love to take the wind out of people," McClain said. "If I can get him on the first play, then he's going to be in for a long game."

McClain knows how it feels to lose your breath on the football field. He failed to pass the team's conditioning test and started training camp on the non-football injury list. Then, after his first practice, he experienced full-body cramps and had to be helped off the field.

McClain said he didn't stay in shape because he was busy watching his 8-month-old daughter over the summer.

"I felt bad because I should have come [to camp] in shape," he said. "I've learned my lesson for next season."

To McClain's credit, it didn't take him long to rebound from the first couple days of camp.

McClain said he lost 11 pounds by the end of the first week and trimmed an additional seven after that.

"He's still not there, but he's done a heck of a job," coach John Harbaugh said. "I don't know if I've seen a guy get in shape as quickly as he has."

Montgomery's nickname for McClain is "Smiley" because he is so easygoing and talkative. But that can be a problem at times.

Asked if he thought McClain likes to hit, Montgomery said: "Le'Ron likes a lot of things. He likes to eat, he likes to talk on the telephone, he likes to sleep and he likes to be lazy."

During one drill, Montgomery wanted the running backs to use their shoulder pads and helmets when hitting the blocking sled. McClain kept explaining why he wanted to use only his hands.

"He's got a gift for gab, and he's going to tell you what he thinks is right," Montgomery said. "But the bottom line is he listens to what I'm saying."

McClain acknowledged that the coaches have a tendency to push him too much. But he understands why they are riding him.

Now, with the release of Justin Green, McClain is the only fullback on the roster.

"It was great that they didn't lose confidence in me," McClain said. "They know my potential."

From the coaches to teammates, everyone knows about McClain's potential.

It's up to him whether he wants to reach it.

"He's got great upside," Lewis said. "It's really based upon how hard he works - if he wants to be good or great."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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