Ravens' McClain flourishing in blocking role

OWINGS MILLS -- Le'Ron McClain built a reputation last season for bulldozing linebackers and displayed unique quickness for a burly fullback who was usually a few biscuits under 270 pounds.

One year after making the Pro Bowl for the first time as the Ravens' leading rusher, the only major differences are the absence of a football in his hands the majority of the time and McClain is noticeably slimmer.

The Baltimore Ravens' rugged lead blocker has accepted and excelled in his new role as a primary lead blocker clearing pathways for star running back Ray Rice.

"I'm just doing my job," said McClain, who rushed for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. "Whenever my number is called in whatever way, blocking running or catching, however my role expands, I just continue to do whatever they want me to do.

"Ray is having a great All-Pro year. He's a great guy. When we get in the game, it's just amazing to watch him."

Dashing behind his offensive line and McClain's blocks, Rice has rushed for 1,128 yards heading into Sunday's pivotal game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

His 1,797 yards from scrimmage ranks second in the NFL behind Tennessee Titans runner Chris Johnson with an average of 128.4 net yards per game.

And Rice also leads the Ravens with 73 receptions for 669 yards, breaking the franchise single-season record in both categories.

The Ravens have the ninth-ranked running game, averaging 127.5 yards per contest and are averaging 25 points per game.

The Ravens piled up 308 rushing yards in a rout of the Detroit Lions two weeks ago as Rice rushed for a career-high 166 yards in essentially one half of work.

As gifted as Rice is, those gaping holes he has dashed through would probably be a lot smaller without McClain's sledge-hammer blocks.

"A fullback is a fullback, and the fullback's one responsibility is to block," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "When he's also a good runner, a good receiver.. I think he's an unselfish person to start with.

"I'm not going to take any credit, or we don't take any credit for making some guys unselfish. This guy is a team player, and a lot of things he's doing this year helping us that don't show up on the stat sheet. So, he's improving in all areas."

Rice has emerged as one of the top all-purpose backs in the game.

He ranks second in franchise history in total yards from scrimmage behind Jamal Lewis' 2,271-yard campaign back in 2003 when he was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

"I've always wanted it this way," Rice said. "I want them to see me as a dual threat out of the pass and the run. I want teams to respect me when I'm out there. Just a credit to our team pushing me along."

Added McClain: "Him and Chris Johnson are two of the best backs out there. He'll make something happen. He's a little guy with a lot of power."

On Sunday, McClain will square off with a formidable set of linebackers made up of James Harrison, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley.

"They're great linebackers, Farrior and Timmons are two of the best in the league," McClain said. "You watch the film and you try to get little keys to get the jump on them. It's a good matchup."

Besides his blocking, McClain has also contributed when called upon in short-yardage situations.

He has rushed for 158 yards on 39 carries, scoring two touchdowns. And he has caught 19 passes for 133 yards.

That's more involvement than most fullbacks around the league in what had recently been described as a dinosaur position.

"And you've got to remind yourself, too, just how young of a player he is," Cameron said of McClain. "He's still a young player, and I think a great player. I've noticed there are some fullbacks coming around in this league.

"We were all thinking that the fullback position was pretty much almost extinct, but I see some good fullbacks out there and it's nice that we've got one of the best ones."


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