Ravens' McClain happy with secondround tender

TOWSON – Jameel McClain went undrafted out of Syracuse four years ago, not even qualifying as an afterthought for nearly every NFL team. Now, the Baltimore Ravens regard the starting inside linebacker as a valuable commodity. Specifically, they assigned the Philadelphia native a second-round restricted free agent tender worth roughly $1.9 million to secure his services for next season.

After years of earning minimum salaries since joining the Ravens as a rookie free agent, McClain has entered a different financial realm. "It's a step in a direction," McClain said. "I'm excited about the confidence that the Ravens have in me, and I'm here to show them that I'm going to keep working every day.

"That's just my game, that's all I know. That's never going to change. It's definitely a compliment. It's more to come, hopefully." In the past, McClain's representatives have floated the idea of negotiating a long-term contract extension with Baltimore. Nothing has materialized yet, but the Ravens decided not to invest in a weak inside linebacker draft class this spring.

And McClain appears relatively entrenched at the Jack inside linebacker position next to All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis after starting all but one game last season. He recorded a career-high 91 tackles, finishing third on the defense. He also registered one sack and a forced fumble last year. Barring a sudden turn of durability from Tavares Gooden or consistency from Dannell Ellerbe, McClain is expected to retain his status as a starter.

In an AFC wild-card playoff win over the Kansas City Chiefs, McClain led the Ravens with six tackles. That included four solo stops for the 6-foot-1, 250-pounder former amateur Gold Gloves boxer.

"We're drafted and signed undrafted free agents over the last three or four years," general manager Ozzie Newsome said when asked during a conference call with season ticket holders about not drafting a linebacker or safety. "So, we have some people already there that have already played a lot of football."

McClain was fined $40,000 by the NFL for his concussion-causing hit on Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller, but it was eventually cut in half to $20,000 after a successful appeal. Even though the lockout remains in effect, McClain said the time spent with the players at a recent informal workout is invaluable. "You get a chance to be here with the players, and being in football shape is its own different animal," McClain said. "I'm taking it on myself to go out here and work. Any player that came out here is amazing.

"You're a professional athlete, and you need to stay on top of it. It's been different. It gave me the opportunity to explore different aspects of my game. It's been different for me. It's changed my lifestyle in a sense." McClain is remaining abreast of the developments in the labor dispute, which has brought football to a standstill with no minicamps or free agent signing period.

"I follow it," McClain said. "I try to stay on top of it as much as I can. Everybody wants to get back to football, the NFL and the players. We all want to get back and the fans want us to get back and hopefully there will be an agreement soon.

"The lockout is what the lockout is. Everybody is hurting. It doesn't matter whether you make millions or thousands. It affects everybody at the end of the day." The Ravens are breaking in a new defensive coordinator in Chuck Pagano, but he's hardly a stranger.

Promoted from secondary coach when former defensive coordinator Greg Mattison went to the University of Michigan, Pagano is a popular figure in the Ravens' locker room. "I'm excited," McClain said. "It's not like Chuck is somebody we haven't seen before. Chuck is a fun guy, a character and definitely very intelligent when it comes to this defense. It's going to be a great experience."

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