McClain has value in his versatility

The Baltimore Sun

University of Alabama fullback Le'Ron McClain didn't know much about the Ravens until last weekend, when he visited the team's training facility in Owings Mills.

He was impressed with the complex, surprised by the head coach's height and happy to learn that the Ravens were in need of a starting fullback.

He left excited and full of energy. Since then, he has stayed in the weight room.

"My visit was a great experience," McClain said by phone. "To see that place and meet your future teammates was exciting. I didn't know the Ravens were really interested in taking me in the draft, even though they sent their running back coach to my pro day. He didn't say anything to me. And to now know there is a need for a starter, well, I plan on coming into training camp fully prepared."

The Ravens are just as excited about McClain. In most pre-draft publications, he was listed as college football's No. 2 fullback behind Rutgers' Brian Leonard. But fullbacks are the forgotten players in pro football, and you can still get a good one in the middle to later rounds.

The Ravens snatched up McClain in the fourth round and might get more value than expected.

"I suspect they might move me around a little," said McClain, a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala. "I've always tried to be flexible and show that I can do more than just block."

McClain fits the mold of a typical Ravens draft pick. The Ravens don't just draft a player at a specific position - he has to be versatile and athletic. For proof, you can look back as far as receiver-returner Jermaine Lewis or to the multitalented Adalius Thomas, who could play defensive end, outside linebacker and safety, and even cover punts on special teams.

McClain is 6 feet and 260 pounds, which is definitely a fullback's body. He loves collisions, which is definitely a fullback's mentality. But he also covered punts at Alabama and has a soft pair of hands. He finished as the fourth-leading receiver last season with 20 catches for 175 yards and three touchdowns.

It doesn't sound like much, but would you like to tackle him running at full speed down the sideline after he catches a short pass in the flat?

"My position coach in college made us catch the ball after practice," McClain said. "He often would talk about seeing the ball, and then pulling it in. He made us work hard daily."

McClain could be used as a fullback or as a receiver out of the backfield. He also has played tight end and H-back. The fullback position for the Ravens opened up early in free agency when former starter Ovie Mughelli signed with the Atlanta Falcons.

Third-year fullback Justin Green received some playing time last season, but not enough to pencil him in as the starter in 2007, and his 2006 season was cut short because of a knee injury. As with most of the draft picks last weekend, McClain spent time going over Ravens game film and learning the offense.

"Actually, it was basically the same offense we ran in college, but only the terminology is different," McClain said. "Overall, I think it's going to be a smooth transition."

Hopefully, it will be quicker for McClain than it was for Mughelli. Until midseason last year, Mughelli always had problems making adjustments if the defensive team moved around before the ball was snapped. It was one of the main reasons it took him nearly 3 1/2 years to work his way into the starting lineup.

But during that time, the Ravens had other fullbacks to step in, like Green or Alan Ricard. There aren't a lot of options if McClain can't play right away. But McClain doesn't foresee any problems. Because he has played a number of positions in the past, it shows that he picks up things easily.

The knock on him, though, is that he didn't consistently block with good technique. That's not good for a team that failed on a lot of short-yardage situations a year ago.

"When I'm off the field, I'm a very laid-back person," McClain said. "I like to relax, chill all the time. On the field, I'm outgoing and very energetic. I'm emotional about the game we're playing and emotional about the game of football.

"Last weekend I got a chance to meet Brian Billick, and even though I didn't know him, I could tell he was a great leader. I think he is going to take us where we want to go, and I just want to be a part of it."

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