By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
7:11 AM EDT, May 16, 2013
The abrupt retirement of trouble-prone inside linebacker Rolando McClain shouldn't necessarily have a major impact on the state of the Ravens at the position.
Here's the logic:
1. Despite his imposing size and first-round pedigree, McClain was never an impact player with the Oakland Raiders. The 6-foot-4, 258-pounder's best asset was his run-stopping skills, but that didn't translate into many big plays, and he was repeatedly inconsistent.
Because McClain didn't join the Ravens' offseason conditioning program and has now declared he doesn't want to play football, the Super Bowl champions won't be able to evaluate how he would have fit in during organized team activities and a minicamp. So, it's as if McClain was never on the team.
2. Although the Ravens can revisit the McClain situation at any time since they maintain control of his contractual rights by placing him on the reserve-retired list, it's extremely questionable whether they can ever rely on him at this point. He's still facing unresolved disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges stemming from his arrest in his hometown of Decatur, Ala., shortly after the Ravens signed him to a one-year, $700,000 contract that included no guaranteed money and has a maximum value of $1.1 million if he had triggered incentive clauses.
Should McClain ever get his life in order and change his mind about retiring, does he really have the necessary desire to play football again? Should the Ravens wait on him while other deserving candidates without off-the-field problems make their bid for playing time? It all comes back to trust, and it's extremely questionable whether they can trust McClain and give him yet another chance.
While inside linebacker is far from settled, the Ravens appear to be better off without McClain than with him on the active roster.
3. The Ravens' inside linebacker position definitely endured some major hits this offseason, most notably the retirement of inside linebacker Ray Lewis, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe signing a $35 million contract with the Miami Dolphins. And there are more questions than answers among the available veteran free agents, a thin group that includes Brian Urlacher, Nick Barnett, Bart Scott and Takeo Spikes.
4. Nonetheless, the Ravens still have some capable players on the roster who could fill the two starting positions in defensive coordinator Dean Pees' 3-4 scheme. And they've got the makings of a tough front seven headlined by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil and veteran defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, as well as rookie nose guard Brandon Williams, a third-round draft pick.
One of the most promising candidates to start at inside linebacker is rookie Arthur Brown, a fast, instinctive, undersized former Kansas State All-American selection. The Ravens showed just how much they coveted and needed Brown when they traded up six spots to the Seattle Seahawks' spot to draft him in the second round.
Although he lacks ideal size, Brown should be able to provide speed and productivity. If Brown pans out as expected, it will go a long way toward solidifying a position of uncertainty.
5. A lot hinges on the health of starting inside linebacker Jameel McClain.
McClain is upbeat about his medical outlook and has no restrictions on his exercise regimen as he continues to make steady progress in his recovery from a spinal cord contusion suffered in December.
While he's still awaiting full medical clearance to resume playing football again, he expects that to happen before next season. He's been running and lifting weights, working out at the Ravens' training complex.
The injury didn't require surgery, but the severity and location of the injury did raise some doubts about his future.
"I'm doing good, I'm doing great," McClain said recently. "I'm running around full speed, working out, lifting weights with no problems, nothing on my end. I can do everything. Everything is positive on my end. If you don't believe in yourself, who else will? Fortunately, this is a good situation for me. Everything is going the way it should."
Although the injury didn't require surgery, it has prevented McClain from being cleared medically yet, with rest and strengthening expected to eventually get him back on the field. The severity and location of the injury initially created doubt about his future.
6. What's the fallback plan if McClain remains sidelined?
That's where the Ravens need someone else to emerge as a potential starter opposite Brown.
Josh Bynes played solidly as an emergency starter last December when McClain, Ellerbe and Lewis were all out with injuries. Bynes isn't the fastest inside linebacker, but is tough and sheds blocks well and has a decent nose for the football.
Albert McClellan has more experience at outside linebacker, but has had positive games in the past at inside linebacker. McClellan is a good tackler and a solid blitzer.
The Ravens are experimenting with converted defensive tackle Bryan Hall, but he last played inside linebacker on a regular basis as an all-state player growing up in Kentucky.
Nigel Carr is a raw talent who will need a consistent training camp to impress the coaching staff.
7. Another interesting player to keep an eye on is undrafted rookie linebacker Brandon Copeland, a Gilman graduate and former Ivy League standout at the University of Pennsylvania.
At 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, Copeland was a three-time All-Ivy League selection as a defensive end. The Ravens evaluated him at inside linebacker during their recent rookie minicamp.
Copeland had 51 tackles and five sacks last season.
He has the requisite size and athleticism.
Copeland has run the 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds, bench pressed 225 pounds 30 times and had a 34 1/2 inch vertical leap, a 10-2 broad jump, a 7.29 three-cone drill and a 4.37 in the 20-yard shuttle.
Copeland has a lot to learn about an unfamiliar position, but he has some upside.