McClain shows promise at fullback

Saturday's win over Kentucky is one Le'Ron McClain won't soon forget. In addition to picking up his first start at Alabama, he also came away with a jammed big toe that threatens to keep him on the sidelines this week.

"It wasn't that much different," McClain said of his first collegiate start. "I just had a lot more snaps, a lot more blocks. It felt good being out there."

Filling in for the injured Tim Castille, McClain got his first start in only his third college game. "Le'Ron did a nice job," Tide Head Coach Mike Shula said after watching film. "He made a couple of freshmen mistakes, but he did a nice job catching the football. He's going to be a tough guy to bring down. He's got good hands."

Running Backs Coach Sparky Woods agreed. "I thought Le'Ron did well, especially for his first start as a college football player. He was really physical. I thought he played really hard, and I was proud of that. He did a nice job blocking for our halfbacks."

At 6-1, 240 pounds, Le'Ron McClain looks the part of a blocking fullback.

Not surprisingly, McClain made several freshman mistakes, but his coaches understood. "He ended up getting confused a little bit," Woods explained. "They had a lot of nice looks up front. Kentucky had two fronts that we were trying to treat as one. Le'Ron got confused as to which side he was on. He had a mental error in pass protection one time that hurt him, but overall he played pretty good."

McClain only carried the ball himself one time for one yard, but he certainly made his presence known as a lead blocker for Bama's halfbacks. For the game the Tide rushed for 266 yards, with starting tailback Shaud Williams going for 174, his best game at Alabama.

"He's 250 pounds, and he'll run and hit you," Woods said in assessing McClain's blocking ability. "He's an unselfish kid, a real team player. He's a typical Alabama kid. He wants to do everything he can to help Alabama win. He's got a chance to be a pretty good player."

Late qualifying, McClain missed much of fall practice. He describes himself as a quick learner, and his progress in recent weeks has been remarkable. McClain commented, "I watched closely for most of the South Florida game. The next game I got a few snaps in against Oklahoma; then I really played a lot versus Kentucky. So the offense is really down pat and in my head right now."

Offensive Coordinator Dave Rader talked about the true freshman. "Le'Ron's an exciting player. The people in Tuscaloosa know all about him. (Last Saturday) he showed where he could break some tackles. He has good hands catching the football. We tried to give it to him one time, but Kentucky stunted right into the play. We have a lot of confidence in him. I think he gained a lot."

McClain's best contributions came as a blocker, helping pave the way for Williams and Bama's other halfbacks. But for the first time Saturday he got his hands on the football as well, catching two passes for 35 yards. His 29-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter was the Tide's longest pass play of the game.

"When I looked up I didn't know I had that much green in front of me, so I turned on the speed," McClain said, recalling the play.

As the Wildcat defenders converged on him, McClain broke one tackle but was then spun around and ended up injuring his foot. "I remember that when I broke that tackle, the linebacker came from the outside and hit me," McClain said. "My foot came down and jammed (the toe) real bad."

Woods recalled what happened. "The play Le'Ron got hurt on was an exceptional effort on his part. He caught the ball and made a big play for us."

McClain had to wait several weeks while the NCAA passed on his qualifying, but he's now up to speed on the Bama offense.

Afterwards McClain lay on the Bryant-Denny turf for a few moments, before getting to his feet and limping to the sideline. "I've got turf toe real bad," McClain said. "I'll go with it day-to-day this week in practice. I'll wear a (protective) boot for a few days. I hope I'll be good by game day."

It's possible McClain could recover in time for Saturday's game against Northern Illinois, but more likely he'll sit out, aiming to return at full speed for Arkansas.

Bama's other fullback, Tim Castille, is expected to be healthy enough to return to action this week. Right now, Woods is feeling a tad snake bit regarding Bama's fullbacks.

Hopefully we'll get some of our injured players back," Woods said. "Usually halfbacks are the ones prone to injury, but this year it's been our fullbacks. Younger players get hurt a little more than older players. It's due to maturity.

"With both our guys it's been kind of unusual. Tim had the hyper-extended knee, and Le'Ron has a turf toe. Both of them were trying to make plays when their injuries happened, which is encouraging."

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