Robert McClain Begins Battle for Roster Spot

Training camp marks the start of Robert McClain's quest to make Carolina's roster. The Panthers' final pick in the draft, McClain has proven himself to be a physical defender and a stalwart special teamer. But as he admits in this exclusive interview, he still has more to prove before he dresses on Sundays.

Robert McClain began his Carolina Panthers career shortly after the NFL Draft. However, he knows minicamps and OTAs were a far cry from the physical rigors of training camp.

Camp will test his physical limits, while the preceding months were mostly mental.

"It was a whole different learning process because they throw everything at you real fast and put the whole playbook out and make you learn the whole thing," he said. "You have to learn fast and adjust on a one-to-one run while you're out there on the field. It was a huge test just learning the playbook and learning styles to play."

CB Robert McClain
Joe Robbins/Getty
Fortunately, the Connecticut product is more prepared than most rookies. He stays in constant contact with CBs Darius Butler (New England Patriots) and Tyvon Branch (Oakland Raiders), former Huskies stars who've fared well in their young NFL careers.

McClain credits the Connecticut program and head coach Randy Edsall for preparing players so well for success in the Big Leagues.

"[Coach Edsall] makes his program similar to the programs in the NFL, just the way our schedule is set out and the way our practices were laid out during the year," he said. "We were always doing something with football and always busy, always on time for things. He made it like a business in college to prepare us for the real world."

For McClain, business began on draft weekend, which he spent at home with family. Since then, every week has been a learning experience.

"Everybody is at the top of his game at this level," he said. "Your technique has to be perfect. You can't make mistakes here and there."

To be fair, the Panthers expect a fair amount of mistakes, especially given the team's ongoing youth movement. The secondary was injected with as much young blood as any position on the roster, as Carolina drafted DB Jordan Pugh (Texas A&M) and CB R.J. Stanford (Utah) before calling McClain's name.

The three young defensive backs are all leaning on the returning veterans as they look to get their games up to NFL speed.

"The whole secondary in general is just real helpful with the incoming rookies," McClain said. "They are just helping us learn the system and helping us adjust to the techniques and the style of the game."

The veterans are also giving off-the-field advice, such as tips for enduring a 20-game season (including the preseason). McClain has already heard about the cold tub and the specialized workouts he must endure to help him stay on top of his game.

But the key for McClain is execution. Now that he knows defensive coordinator Ron Meeks' playbook, he must focus in on what the Panthers want him to change technique-wise and showcase those refinements throughout training camp.

Can McClain beat out fellow rookie R.J. Stanford? Discuss in the message boards.

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