Full Load

Mcclain's Physical, Carrying Ball Or Not

December 16, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

In three years with the Ravens, fullback Le'Ron McClain has learned to be both resilient and content.

He was a special teams thumper as a fourth-round draft pick in 2007. He ground his way to a team-high 902 rushing yards to earn a Pro Bowl trip in 2008. And this season, he toils without complaint as the lead blocker for 1,000-yard rusher Ray Rice.

The operative word in all three job descriptions is physicality, something McClain, at 6 feet tall and more than 260 pounds, brings with obvious passion.

Coming off a 308-yard rushing effort against the Detroit Lions, the Ravens have the option down the stretch of using the passing game or playing power ball. Although McClain will accept any role, it's obvious where his heart lies.

"In the December cold, teams don't want to tackle a big back who is getting downhill," he said with a knowing grin.

A year ago, McClain had 232 carries and 10 rushing touchdowns. This season, he has 36 carries and two touchdowns.

In fact, McClain became the workhorse over the final month of the 2008 regular season, with five straight games of 20 or more carries. Injuries curtailed his efforts in the postseason, and he carried just 32 times in three games.

This season has required another adjustment by the Fort Wayne, Ind., native. When McClain carried six times in the 48-3 rout of the Lions on Sunday, it matched his season high from Week 1. But if McClain is frustrated over his reduced role this season, he hasn't expressed it.

Asked after the Detroit game whether he thought the Ravens would go back to the power run game this month, McClain opted for the politically correct answer: "Whatever Cam comes up with. I'm just going off Cam."

That would be Cam Cameron, who has nudged the Ravens from run-dominated offense to pass-dominated and back in his two years as offensive coordinator, sometimes in the same game.

A running back at heart, McClain hopes for the chance to split carries but understands his role as bodyguard for Rice, the team's best playmaker.

"I just want my chance to contribute," he said. "If I only get one carry, I'm doing the best I can with one carry. I just want to focus on winning. ... It felt great seeing Ray [go over] 1,000 yards [against Detroit]."

Rice was quick to acknowledge the contributions of the offensive line, wide receiver Derrick Mason (whose downfield block allowed Rice to finish a 59-yard touchdown run) and McClain after rushing for 166 yards Sunday.

Of McClain, Rice said: "When he's in front of me, Le'Ron looks like a tackle."

At other times, he looks like a receiver. His 19 receptions this season equal last year's total.

Despite his lack of rushing numbers, McClain led NFL fullbacks in Pro Bowl votes announced Tuesday. Balloting ends Monday, and the team will be announced Dec. 29 on the NFL Network.

"He's playing at a Pro Bowl level as a fullback," Cameron said earlier this season. "He was a perfect fit a year ago. We haven't had as many short-yardage opportunities as we've had in the past. But there's a lot of football left in this season, and an injury here and an injury there, he could be the starting tailback. So he has to be ready. Being a pro, your attitude can't waver, and he's a pro. He's an integral part of what we're doing, especially in pass protection, the running game."

McClain picked up his second touchdown of the season on a 3-yard smash into the middle of the line to open a 27-3 lead Sunday. He matched his longest run of the season in the first quarter with a 20-yard burst up the middle. And in the final two minutes of the game, he converted a fourth-and-1 from the Detroit 20.

"I consider myself the best fullback [in the NFL]," he said. "I have as many catches as I had last year. I'm averaging over 4 yards a carry [4.2] and I'm blocking for a 1,000-yard back," McClain said. "I feel I'm doing great. Besides, I'd rather go to the Super Bowl than the Pro Bowl any day."

Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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