The free-agent signing of veteran linebacker Jameel McClain by the New York Giants was generally greeted with a collective shrug. McClain, who spent his first six seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, was mostly viewed as a non-descript replacement for a non-descript free-agent loss, linebacker Keith Rivers, who signed with the Buffalo Bills. As it turns out, however, McClain could end up being a very important player for the Giants in 2014. Let's take a closer look at McClain as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp beginning July 21.
2013 Season In Review
McClain missed the first six games of the season as he recovered from a spinal cord contusion suffered near the end of the 2012 season. He started the Ravens' final six games and played without incident, recording 52 tackles. Playing inside linebacker in Baltimore's 3-4 defense McClain posted a -8.0 Pro Football Focus score, including -9.4 against the run.
2014 Season Outlook
McClain had been penciled in as the Giants' strong side linebacker, but will be taking over in the middle until Jon Beason returns from his foot injury. It is McClain's leadership, his vocal presence, the fact that he comes from a culture of winning and cares about it that will be his greatest asset to the Giants. Perhaps the former first-round pick Rivers was a more talented player, though in skill set the two veterans are probably a wash. Rivers, though, was nearly invisible around the Giants. He was not a guy players could learn from, lean on or rally around. He was just a player. McClain, a 28-year-old who has fashioned an excellent career despite coming out of Syracuse University as an undrafted free agent, is much more than that.
This is what McClain said after being moved to the middle to replace Beason:
"Responsibilities always change. With great opportunity comes a lot of responsibility. Getting people lined up and doing things that I'm normally accustomed to is just something that I will bring to it. It's something that we will all bring to it, so everyone gets a chance to learn what it's like to be the man, to be the middle linebacker, to make the calls, to get it all right. That makes a great defense when everybody knows what to do.
"That’s my game, that’s my style of play," McClain step. "I believe in picking others up more than myself. If that becomes a leader, that’s what a leader is to some people. To me, it’s just my game, just getting people aligned and being in the right position."
Shortly after the Giants signed McClain, Pete Demilatis of Pro Football Focus offered us some thoughts on what Mcclain could bring to the Giants. Demilatis opined that McClain is a two-down run stopper who might be more effective outside than inside, but could be a good player "if the Giants put him in the best position to succeed."
Maybe skillset-wise that is not inside where he will be short-term, but the Giants will benefit from his experience and leadership regardless.
Here is Baltimore coach John Harbaugh talking about what the Giants will get from McClain:
"He came back midseason from that injury, so there is probably some transition there. By the end of the year, I think he was the same player, and he'll be even better next year, back to his old self probably. You're getting a physical player, a very physical run-stopper. You're getting a very smart player, he understands coverage schemes and you're getting a tremendous, great, high-character guy. He'll be a great mentor for the young players. He's just a top-shelf person."
Having lost locker room leaders like Justin Tuck and Terrell Thomas and with Beason sidelined temporarily, McClain could prove to be of huge importance to the Giants.