Five Ravens Pro Bowl bound

OWINGS MILLS – At the launch of a grueling training camp, powerful fullback Le'Ron McClain never would have suspected that he would end this breakthrough season by joining four Baltimore Ravens teammates representing the AFC squad at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

Especially not when he reported out of shape and flunked the conditioning test, later going into a full-body cramp and being helped off the field by trainers.

"Oh, no, it's been a blessing to me," said McClain, who was tabbed by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for an increased role that took advantage of his hard-nosed running style. "Thanks to coach Cameron for putting confidence in me. I've been doing a great job and just hope I continue."

McClain worked diligently to get into shape. A renewed work ethic paid dividends for the 6-foot, 260-pounder. He dished out punishment to linebackers all season, running roughshod over tacklers to emerge as the Ravens' leading rusher with 693 yards and seven touchdown runs.

Now, McClain has joined middle linebacker Ray Lewis, free safety Ed Reed, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo as part of the NFL's annual all-star game.

"It's just my determination," said McClain, a former Alabama s tandout who carried the football just eight times for 18 yards in 11 starts as a rookie. "I always wanted to play running back. My dream was always just to be the MVP of the Super Bowl one day playing running back. I could have my chance this year."

During the Ravens' 13-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers where McClain rushed for a game-high 87 yards on 23 carries, Pittsburgh linebackers James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley as well as several other members of the NFL's top-ranked defense told him that he had earned their vote for Pro Bowl distinction.

"That was great," said McClain, who leads the offense with eight total touchdowns. "Throughout the game, guys on the Pittsburgh side were telling me that I really got their respect. And they've got mine, too, because they got my vote also. It feels great. I continue climbing up that ladder and don't go back down."

The Steelers weren't the only people who noticed the dramatic difference in McClain over the course of the season.

"He had struggled when he got to camp to do conditioning and was just cramping up," Ayanbadejo said. "Every day, the kid just got better and better. He went from a cocoon to a butterfly to me because I had never seen him before and I didn't really know much about him. I'm proud to be his teammate."

McClain was elected as a starter as well as Lewis, Reed and Ayanbadejo. Suggs was voted in as a reserve.

In the final year of a seven-year, $50 milli on contract, Lewis, 33, leads the team with 139 tackles and has recorded three sacks and three interceptions. He's a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and only ranks behind retired offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden for the most Pro Bowl selections in franchise history.

Reed leads Baltimore with five interceptions, returning two for touchdowns, including a league-record 107-yard return against the Philadelphia Eagles and has scored three touchdowns overall. The one-time former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is the franchise's all-time leader with 39 career interceptions.

In his first year in Baltimore after signing a four-year, $4.9 million contract as a free agent during the offseason, Ayanbadejo made the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive year after being named twice during his tenure with the Chicago Bears. He leads Baltimore with 26 special-teams tackles, recovering one fumble.

This marks Ayanbadejo's first Pro Bowl selection in the AFC.

"I think it means a lot of respect because you don't get to play against all those NFC teams and those guys knew me," Ayanbadejo said. "It's just a testament to my coaches, coach [Jerry] Rosburg and coach [John] Harbaugh and the scheme I've been fortunate to play in for four years now. I just keep trying to elevate my game, and the coaches keep trying to motivate me to get better at things I wasn't as good at."

A two-time Pro Bowl selection named to the game in 2004 and 2006, Suggs ranks second on the team with 9 0 tackles and leads Baltimore with 7 1/2 sacks. The former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year will back up the Miami Dolphins' Joey Porter and the Pittsburgh Steelers' James Harrison.

"I can't really express how happy I am," said Suggs, who has returned two interceptions for touchdowns. "It's flattering because you're voted in from the guys you play against. Obviously, they've seen the film and put it on."

Suggs was concerned that his strong all-around season might be ignored since his sack numbers aren't high, but Lewis assured him that he wouldn't be overlooked.

"Ray said to me, 'Just because you don't really have many sacks doesn't determine the type of season that you're having,'" Suggs said. "He told me, 'You're having a monster season.'"

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (70 tackles, two interceptions) and punter Sam Koch (44.8 average) were the most prominent Baltimore players passed over in the balloting, but faced extremely strong competition in the AFC.

Koch ranked fourth in the league with a 40.2 net average and placed 31 punts inside opponents' 20-yard line to rank only behind the Chicago Bears' Brad Maynard.

During a Pro Bowl selection show on the NFL Network, former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora made a convincing argument that Ngata should have been included. He called his absence from the team the biggest snub on the AFC roster, adding that Cleveland Browns nose guard Shaun Rogers should be replaced by Ngata.

"You don't run the ball up the middle with him in there," Mora said. "You can't block him with one guy. It's hard to block him with two guys. This guy's a tremendous player."

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