By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun
6:49 PM EDT, July 14, 2011
When Le'Ron McClain finishes up his football camp at Lutheran School next week, the two-time Pro Bowl player doesn't know if he'll return to Baltimore again this year.
"Every time I go to Baltimore, I think about it," McClain said. "I think it might be the last few days I'm here."
Assuming NFL grants free agency to players with four years of service, McClain will be among the top fullbacks to hit the market, although he doesn't prefer that title anymore. He thinks of himself as just "a back."
McClain has been working vigorously this offseason in Alabama to show teams that he is capable of being a ball-carrier again. His speed is up and his weight is down.
So if he returns to the Ravens this year, it probably will have to come with assurances that he'll touch the ball more than 49 times like last season.
"I have no problem getting in there and getting dirty because I love contact," McClain said. "I just want to take my game to another level. No disrespect to anybody, not [offensive coordinator] Cam [Cameron], not John Harbaugh, not Ray Rice or Willis [McGahee]. I just don't want to disrespect my game anymore, like I feel like I've done these last two years."
McClain was one of the Ravens' most pleasant surprises in 2008, leading the team with 902 yards rushing on 232 carries. The past two seasons, when Rice has become the featured back, McClain's carries have plummeted to a total of 74.
With the expected release of backup running back McGahee (he's scheduled to earn $6 million in 2011), the Ravens will need a power running back who can excel in the red zone like McGahee.
"If that opportunity comes, I feel like I can step into that second running back role and still be that fullback," McClain said.
To improve a rushing attack that was the fifth-worst in yards per carry, the Ravens probably need to find a fullback whose focus is blocking. Houston's Vonta Leach and Cleveland's Lawrence Vickers are free agents and could be on the Ravens' wish list.
McClain doesn't want that same role again.
"I had my game put in a box for the past three years because I couldn't show too much," McClain said. "I want to get my chance. Hopefully it's with the Ravens. If not, I'm prepared for the transformation."
McClain made his feelings known last year. He started a Twitter campaign. "McClain 4 RB," and even printed t-shirts. Despite his efforts, he finished with 28 carries and no touchdowns.
His frustration led to him approaching Harbaugh after the playoff loss in Pittsburgh, where he didn't touch the ball once.
"I told Harbaugh that I wished I could have done more," McClain said. "I don't know if it would have made a difference. You just never know."
Besides his training, this offseason has been a busy one for McClain.
He lent his support to the relief effort for victims of the April tornadoes that killed more than 240 in Alabama. McClain, who attended high school and college in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was there during the catastrophe.
"It was life-changing experience," he said. "I was just trying to make a difference, and everything is going pretty good."
As soon as the lockout ends, McClain is preparing himself for another possible life-changing event with free agency.
So, what will weigh more into his decision: more chances to run the ball or more money?
"Both of them," he said. "Whatever opportunity is placed in front of me, I'm going to take full advantage of it."
Note: McClain's camp (for ages 7 to 18) will run Monday and Tuesday. For more information, call 301-575-9415.
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