Muscling in

ON THE RAVENS

Army veteran makes strong case for linebacker job

Robert McCune

August 14, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

Ravens linebacker Robert McCune doesn't go to beaches. He usually doesn't wear tank-top or sleeveless T-shirts. Because when he does, it causes a lot of commotion.

McCune has earned a lot of nicknames from his teammates. Some call him "Swoll," short for swollen. Some call him "Rock." Others call him "Herc" or "Muscles."

In a business in which bodies are chiseled and molded every day into human mountains, McCune probably has the best in the NFL. There are estimates that he has only 6 percent to 8 percent body fat.

Even his muscles have muscles.

"I have to be careful what I wear into the supermarkets because you can become a piece of flesh, where everybody wants to touch you," McCune said. "I cover up a lot now."

McCune can make players marvel in any NFL locker room. Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan remembers the first time he saw McCune at the scouting combine three years ago.

"I thought he looked like me," said Ryan, laughing. "But McCune took his shirt off, and it was ridiculous how he could look like that. I called him Hercules from that point on."

McCune, 6-0 and 245 pounds, is a player everybody roots for. Before graduating from Louisville in 2004, McCune spent four years in the Army. He was stationed in South Korea and Kuwait.

He has a realistic chance of making the team again this year after signing with the Ravens late last season. But at age 29, he has a different perspective than most players.

"I fueled military vehicles in Kuwait, and I've seen and heard some things that some people don't want to hear or see," McCune said. "When some players talk about how hot it is in practice, sometimes I remember how hot it was in the desert. It's all a matter of how you want to look at things."

McCune built and maintained his physique in the desert. He seems to have no neck because his trapezoid muscles start just below his ears. His biceps rip through his shirts. McCune says he hasn't maxed out in the bench press for years, but the last time he did it was 550 pounds.

I know what you're thinking: McCune is another steroid baby. But he says that's not true.

"People ask me that, and that's offensive," McCune said. "I would never put a poison like that in my body. We get drug-tested all the time for steroids, and I've never had a problem."

McCune didn't start playing football until his senior year in high school. Because he had below-average grades and no schools recruited him, he thought it would be better to go into the armed services and use the GI Bill to finance his college education.

McCune could still play football, but the key was to continue to train. So when he had free time, McCune would sprint to the dunes of Kuwait with a backpack filled with sand and rocks. He often kept a 40-pound rock inside his truck so he could do shoulder presses or arm curls.

"You always had to stay fit," McCune said. "I guess some of the guys thought I was a little crazy hauling around that rock, but we didn't always have weights. I wanted to keep alive my goal of getting to the NFL."

McCune was selected in the fifth round of the 2005 draft by the Washington Redskins. He also spent time with the Miami Dolphins before the Ravens signed him in November. McCune played in two games for the Ravens last season, totaling four special teams tackles.

He had been impressive in offseason minicamps and training camp until he suffered a slight knee injury last week against the New England Patriots. But the Ravens like his potential.

"He still has to learn about the game, but he is going to be a dominating player one day," Ravens center Jason Brown said.

McCune is one of the Ravens' most likeable players. Brought up in the Apostolic Church of God Rapture Preparation Center in Mobile, Ala., he is a devout Christian. He has a tattoo marked "Blessed" across his upper body.

The accent is southern, and his words are soft-spoken. He is extremely well-mannered, and his dream was one day to play for Auburn or Alabama, and later in the NFL.

"This body is God's gift, and it's a blessing to be here playing this game," McCune said.

The Ravens are enjoying the blessing as well. McCune can play inside, outside and on special teams.

"He can play," Ryan said. "Unfortunately, he got that knee hurt, but hopefully he can come back healthy and show what he's got during the last two weeks. Football has to be easy with what he has been through in his life. You don't have to tell him to go out and fight because he has been in wars and everything else. He's a big-picture guy, and some of the guys go over and talk to him."

"You watch him play, and he can be special," Ryan said. "You look at our kickoff team and say, 'Which guy do I have to block? Do I have to block Antwan Barnes or do I take out Brendon Ayanbadejo? Or do I have to take out McCune?' That whole group is impressive."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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