While rehabilitating the torn ACL in his right knee that sidelined him for the entire 2017 season, Albert McClellan had plenty of time to kill, and one of his favorite ways to pass the time was to read. One of the Ravens linebacker’s favorite books was a biography of former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt, but one passage that resonated with him was a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
“I’ve kind of taken that into perspective, and now day in and day out, play in and play out, meeting in and meeting out, we’ve got to have fun,” he said. “We’ve got to live every day and play every play like it’s our last play because you never know when it’s going to be. Last year, I didn’t know that just planting and going left would be my last play of the season. So you’ve got to have fun each and every play and find ways to win the battle.”
McClellan’s philosophy has helped him appreciate the mundane moments of life – even the grueling, tedious aspects of training camp. While some players have taken advantage of a day off offered to veterans of a certain age, he has not skipped a single session.
“I really missed it,” he said even after being given a chance to complain about camp. “I missed every last second of being out here with my teammates. It was a little stressful sitting on the couch and just watching and not being able to physically participate. I can’t even lie. I missed every little thing — every fight, every grit, every grunt.”
McClellan’s fondness for practice might be mirrored by the team’s gratitude for his return. Despite not being a starter, he is the primary backup to middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, has experience playing outside linebacker and is one of two co-captains on special teams.
“Albert has always been the Swiss Army knife of the defense ever since I’ve been here,” defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said. “[I’m] going on my seventh year. He has the ability to play wherever we need to play him. We moved him back to inside. He’s played inside. He’s played outside. He started outside, as you know, but he is starting to feel better with the knee. You can see he’s starting to trust it.”
At age 32, McClellan would be forgiven for requesting a smaller workload. But he said he welcomes the challenge of playing both defense and special teams.
“Half of the time, I may not be doing it right. Half of the time, it could be luck or just preparation,” he said. “But I’m going to come out here and work, and I’m going to work hard. It’s just great to know that hard work really pays off.”
McClellan has only known the Ravens since he joined them as an undrafted rookie in 2010, and his path has been circuitous. After spending his rookie season on the practice squad and playing in 16 games in a reserve role in 2011, he replaced Hall of Famer Ray Lewis (torn triceps) and made 11 starts in 2012. He returned to backup status for the next three seasons before making 11 starts at strong-side linebacker for Elvis Dumervil (Achilles) in 2016.
McClellan led the team in special teams tackles in 2011, 2013 and 2014 and has renewed his value on that unit. During Monday’s practice, after special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg scolded rookie linebacker Kenny Young for an error during a punt blocking exercise, McClellan took Young aside and demonstrated what to do.
“I’ve said this many times about Albert: At whatever point in time he’s done being a player, he’ll be a fabulous coach because he understands the little things that are important,” said Rosburg, who is also the team’s associate head coach. “He is a great communicator. … He understands football, and he's going to coach those guys just like he does everybody else. It’s great to see.”
Starting weak-side linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, who also plays on special teams, said McClellan’s return has removed some of the burden from defensive back Anthony Levine Sr.
“I feel like the leadership fell more on Anthony Levine with Albert being gone, and I feel like with Albert being back, it’s now on both of them,” Onwuasor said. “And even in the linebackers room, with him being able to play everywhere, I can ask him about the Sam, the Will, the Mike. You can talk to him about anything and any position on the field because he will have the answers for you.”
Entering his eighth season with the Ravens, McClellan’s tenure is exceeded by only five other teammates who have spent more years with the organization. His full beard has a few more gray hairs even if he insists he’s always had gray hairs. But he said he is proud of his longevity in a profession where careers are often cut short.
“The guys that have been here for a while — [right guard Marshal] Yanda, [outside linebacker Terrell Suggs], [quarterback] Joe [Flacco], [long snapper] Morgan [Cox], [punter] Sam [Koch] — we all come in and find ways to smile and laugh,” McClellan said. “We’ve got [former linebacker and current coaching intern] Edgar Jones out here, and we were talking about what it was like when he was here.
“We’re reminiscing and just looking at all of the highs from over the years. We can always sit back and talk and find ways to make more memories. We’re building relationships, and that’s what it’s all about — building those bonds and building those relationships that keep everything going and building trust with one another.”