McClain Could Turn Career Around In Baltimore
By Cian Fahey
After signing FS Michael Huff to a contract in free agency, it comes as some surprise that the Baltimore Ravens double-dipped in the Oakland Raiders’ 2012 player pool with MLB Rolando McClain. Huff was an understandable free-agent addition because he played well in difficult circumstances last year, but McClain has essentially been the poster-boy for the Raiders' dysfunction over the past few years.
McClain was selected eighth overall in the 2010 draft. Although he started 29 games over his first two seasons, he never lived up to his draft stock on the field and he quickly became a problem off of it. A misdemeanor assault case was dismissed against McClain in 2012, before he was suspended by the Raiders because of an altercation with coach Dennis Allen.
With his play on the field limited to being a run-stuffer and a liability in coverage, McClain started just nine games last year and was not with the team as the season came to a close. The Raiders tried to trade him, but were eventually forced to be released him instead of paying him over $4 million for the 2013 season.
On the onset, it appears that McClain is a poisoned chalice. However, considering the pressure that was on him in such a difficult situation, there should still be some hope for the former Alabama linebacker.
McClain is only 23 years of age and has been a starter since he entered the league at 20. From day one, he was expected to help turn around the most dysfunctional franchise in the league. At that age, it takes a special character to turn around a losing culture created by instability. Possibly because he learned his craft from Nick Saban and was nurtured in the winning culture of Alabama football, McClain was expected to lead the Raiders in the right direction regardless of whether or not he had a veteran role model to follow.
Even though Ray Lewis has retired, the Ravens still have very strong leadership base and a proud culture that could dramatically alter the careers of Huff and McClain.
From a sheer football point of view, McClain could fit a need. The Ravens have yet to sign a free agent inside linebacker to replace Dannell Ellerbe or Ray Lewis to start alongside Jameel McClain. McClain’s inability to play in coverage could make him a two-down linebacker, but that wouldn't be a major issue for the Ravens' defense if he can be an above-average run defender. Because he will be playing inside of OLBs Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, McClain wouldn't be required to carry much pass rush threat either.
Much of the Ravens’ defensive setup will be dependent on what player eventually fills the strong safety spot. If they find a player who excels covering tight ends in that spot, then they could afford the luxury of having McClain on the field on early downs.