Ego-free Mcclain Embraces Role As Blocker For Runners

August 04, 2009|By MIKE PRESTON

On any play, Le'Ron McClain might line up at fullback, halfback, tight end, H-back or in the slot.

How about quarterback? "Nah, nah, nah, not there yet," said McClain, smiling.

McClain was effective as one of three starting halfbacks last season. In fact, he finished as the team's leading rusher with 902 rushing yards on 232 carries, and had 10 touchdowns during the regular season.

So far in training camp, though, McClain is running No. 3 at halfback behind starter Ray Rice and backup Willis McGahee. McClain could be pouting, but he is still the No. 1 fullback. He might be the best overall running back on the roster as far as running, receiving, blocking and not complaining.

"I'm really impressed where he is," running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery said of McClain. "The game has really slowed down for him. You would think in terms of coming back and the success he had that he would be big-headed and have some cockiness. But he is re-inventing himself. He is taking coaching and has showed me a lot in trying to be the fullback we want him to be.

"Yesterday, he was in there thumping, thumping, dropping his pads and moving his legs, doing all the little things we've asked him to do," Montgomery said. "And that's going to make the difference in him having a successful season regardless if he doesn't get the carries he had last year."

The carries, or lack of carries, might be a touchy subject for some running backs, but not McClain. His ego is nowhere near as big as his 6-foot, 260-pound body. He is a fun-loving, outgoing person who openly talks about his faith and belief in Jesus Christ. He doesn't like to talk about himself, but he does like to talk about everything else, especially his "boys," Rice and McGahee.

"Oh, I do want to carry the ball, don't mistake that," McClain said. "But I don't mind going in there banging for Ray and Willis. That's why I was drafted, to be a fullback. I'm here to be positive and do whatever needs to be done to get us over the hump of the AFC championship game and into the Super Bowl."

It's logical for McClain's role as a featured runner to be somewhat diminished in 2009. Rice, in his second season, is bigger and better. He bounces outside and cuts back with confidence, something he didn't do last season.

Unlike a year ago, McGahee has reported to training camp in fairly good shape and has performed well. There have been no complaints about ankle, knee or eye injuries, or over lack of practice time with the first unit. If McGahee and Rice can stay healthy, they should be the top two backs.

But if the Ravens have the lead going into the fourth quarter or are in tough short-yardage situations, McClain will be their guy. He is the closer: just a big, burly masher who can suck the life out of a team yard by yard.

"He is going to be a combo back," Montgomery said. "He had those hidden yards he gave us last year where you just can't leave him out."

McClain has prepared for the workload. He reported to the team's training facility in mid-March for the offseason program and, coach John Harbaugh said, has been one of the team's hardest workers.

If there had been one area in which McClain needed to improve, it was as a receiver coming out of the backfield. But so far in training camp, he has performed well running mid- to short-range patterns in the flat or across the middle.

"I've been working on that all season with Joe [Flacco]," McClain said of his pass catching. "That will expand my role a little bit more. If I get better on the practice field, then the entire teams gets better on game day."

McClain has a good attitude. In Montgomery, he also has the perfect coach to orchestrate and distribute playing time. Montgomery, a former star running back with the Philadelphia Eagles, is brutally honest with all three runners.

"On my pro day [at Alabama], Wilbert was the only guy who pulled me aside and told me I could be a running back with the size and feet that I had," McClain said. "What we have in that backfield, on the offensive line, outside and with J-5 [Flacco] at quarterback, are a lot of weapons. For me personally, I just want to prove to everybody that last year was not a fluke."

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