What will Jameel McClain get as a reward for setting a career-high in tackles last season with the New York Giants? Probably a seat on the bench, provided Jon Beason is healthy. Let's look at McClain's role as we continue our series of player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.
2014 Season in Review
McClain came to the Giants after six seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and was expected to be the team's starting strong side or SAM linebacker. That isn't how things worked out. With Beason limited to just four games by toe and foot injuries, the veteran McClain moved into the middle linebacker spot and assumed the role of quarterback of the team's defense.
McClain ended up with a career-high 116 tackles, the first 100+ tackle season of his NFL career. Despite the tackle numbers, McClain is not best-suited to be a middle linebacker. His -12.1 Pro Football Focus score, including -4.8 vs. the run, attest to that.
Still, with Beason out, McClain's leadership and veteran presence were important to the Giants.
McClain also provided this memorable moment.
2015 Season Outlook
What is McClain's reward for being a good soldier in 2014? For playing out of position, doing the best he could to hold together a defense that obviously wasn't good enough during a season that was obviously heading down the drain? If all goes well, it will be a seat on the bench.
If Beason is healthy -- always a a major question -- he will be the middle linebacker. Impressive second-year man Devon Kennard should be the strong side or SAM linebacker. J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casillas were signed as free agents in the offseason and are expected to compete for the wea side of WILL linebacker spot. If all of those things go according to plan, that would leave the 30-year-old McClain cheering from the sideline.
Linebackers coach Jim Herrmann was complementary when asked about McClain during minicamp:
"I think Jameel is versatile enough. He has played all three positions, so he can play in and out. He is a tough guy, which is good, so you want him in there in the run game. He is athletic enough to play in subs," Herrmann said.
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound McClain might not seem as athletic as Thomas or Casillas, but Herrmann would not discount the idea that McClain could earn the right to play the weak side:
"I think to me, when you go out, you are going to put the three best people on the field. Why would you have the best guys standing next to you? Whatever the position is ... Who are the best guys? Those are the guys that are going to play," Herrmann said. "That is what the players are striving to be. They are striving to be the best three linebackers, the best four linebackers. To me, that has always been true, ever since I started coaching. The best guys are going to play."
McClain is a true pro, a class act, a pretty good player and an excellent guy to have on the roster and in the locker room. If all goes according to plan, however, he won't be one of the guys who is actually on the field.