Is it Too Soon to Label Jameel McClain a Starter?


If you take the Ravens coaching staff words at face value, once he is cleared to play Jameel McClain will be one of the team’s starting inside linebackers.

The job has been labeled, “Jameel’s to lose.”

Coaches sing McClain’s praises as a player who does the little things; a player who is smart and one who provides leadership. And if the coaches are sincere, McClain will likely be a team captain and call the defensive signals as Dean Pees’ “Green Dotsman.”

Without question McClain is a good man, involved in the community and appreciates his place in life after enduring the hardships of homelessness while growing up. If he can overcome that adversity, he surely can overcome his spinal concussion that forced him to the sidelines after the Ravens’ 13th game in 2012 and throughout the playoff run.

But is he good enough to be a starter on a team that is looking for improved play from their insider backers, particularly in coverage where they were exposed in 2012?

McClain isn’t a playmaker. He doesn’t have suddenness in short spaces. He’s just an average player who played on an average defense in 2012. After his injury, Dannell Ellerbe displayed explosiveness never seen from McClain.

So you have to wonder why Pees is so quick to hand a job to a player who still hasn’t received medical clearance to play despite all of the reports that suggest such clearance is forthcoming.

It’s been said before that inside backers playing alongside Ray Lewis were asked to do the dirty work – work that included taking on lead blocks on running plays so that Ray Lewis could run unabated to the ball carrier. Bart Scott filled that role perhaps better than any other Raven.

But if that’s the case, why did Ellerbe stand out so much more in fewer starts than McClain ever has?

Maybe Pees is giving lip service to stoke the fires, stir the competitive juices of the other inside backers looking to stake their claim on the starting inside backer opening.

The Ravens have invested heavily in strengthening their defensive front bringing on newcomers Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and rookie Brandon Williams. They’ve also added Elvis Dumervil. Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs are reportedly in much better condition than they were in 2012 as is Pernell McPhee. Plus Art Jones is expected to pick up where he left off in 2012 when he registered 4 ½ sacks in the final 6 games and another in the Super Bowl.

It’s very safe to say that the improved front line will keep the inside backers much cleaner in 2013 than they did in 2012 and therefore improving on a defense that yielded 122.8 yards on the ground per game (20th).

Newcomer Daryl Smith seems like a logical starter. Playing in Jacksonville he’s fallen under the radar but those who have kept a watchful eye know that Smith has been one of the most productive linebackers in the league over the past 5 seasons. Pro Football Focus has taken notice and he’s ranked fourth over that time frame, ahead of other notables such as Navarro Bowman, Lawrence Timmons, Lance Briggs AND Ray Lewis.

Here’s what PFF noted about Smith:

It’s hard for a 4-3 outside linebacker to get much respect since they aren’t often the ones to get sacks, and the middle linebacker is typically the one to get the most tackles. Like most linebackers on this list, Smith has built his game around being a well-rounded player. In 2009, Smith had a breakout year with 55 stops and 27 pressures.

While he didn’t have the same year in 2010, in 2011 he ended up having the best year we’ve seen out of a 4-3 outside linebacker not named Von Miller. He tallied eight passes defended which was the most out of a 4-3 outside linebacker in any of the past five years. After missing nearly all of 2012, he is now with the Ravens. If he can play anywhere near like he has in the past, then Baltimore can continue their trend of great players in the middle of their defense.

Clearly Smith is more accomplished than McClain.

That then leaves us with promising rookie Arthur Brown and other returning players vying for playing time like Josh Bynes, Albert McClellan, Adrian Hamilton and converted DL Bryan Hall.

Some observers believe that rookie John Simon could migrate to inside linebacker given his passion, instincts and tackling ability. Teddy Bruschi made a similar conversion and had a very good career as the leader of the New England Patriots’ championship defenses.

From my vantage point, the job seems wide open and it’s far too early to anoint the recovering Jameel McClain as a starter no matter what the coaches say in June and July.

Who will be the starting inside linebackers when the Ravens open the regular season on Sept. 5? (pick 2)
Total voters: 498
Jameel McClain (17%)
Daryl Smith (44%)
Arthur Brown (30%)
Josh Bynes (4%)
Albert McClellan (2%)
Adrian Hamilton (0%)
Bryan Hall (0%)
John Simon (3%)
This poll has completed. Thank you for voting.

17 Raves on “Is it Too Soon to Label Jameel McClain a Starter?

  1. Josh on said:

    I think the key word for this year’s defense will be “rotation.” In my mind, because of the deep depth we have, we’ll see a rotation of players along the defensive line and inside linebacker. Jameel may start the games on the inside, but guys like Smith, Brown, Bynes, McClellan and perhaps even rookie Brandon Copeland will see their share of snaps.

    And has the team officially said they are moving Simon and Hamilton to the inside? I thought they liked Hamilton’s potential as a pass rusher, and Simon played on the outside on Ohio State.

  2. Filmstudy on said:

    One of the players who starts in the middle will likely be the defensive signal caller. In the past, whether Lewis, or others when he was hurt, the Ravens have always played that player every single snap.

    Josh Bynes played all the snaps in his game with the green dot as did McClain.

    If the Ravens don’t give signal-calling responsibilities to Huff or Elam, then only 3-down backers make sense to have the green dot. Brown is projected to play 3 downs eventually and Smith has played virtually every snap when active since early 2011. I’ll be surprised if one of those 2 isn’t the defensive signal caller.

    If he doesn’t wear the green dot, there is no reason for McClain to be on the field for passing downs.

  3. Players on said:

    This article provides good analysis and raises some very interesting questions. Every player on the list has a story which can be told. For example, some people think Bryan Hall was promised a roster spot because he lost 50 pounds to move to LB from DE. Some people think Bynes is the best all round ILB. The consensus does seem that the veteran Smith will be a starter and a three down player who has proven himself to be a good pass defender. He has learned the Ravens system quickly and can be a signal caller. I wouldn’t be surprised if Art Brown is first man off the bench instead of a starter at the beginning of the system. This would give Bynes and/or McClain a chance to show what they can do. Since Brown and Simon are rookies there is no need to rush them into the starting lineup with this kind of depth.

  4. Paul Lukoskie on said:

    Tony – I am still not 100% convinced that he’ll be able to really play again. That injury to his spine was nothing to mess around with.

    He can run around in shorts all he wants, but you never really know how your body will respond until the pads come on. I sure hope he doesn’t try and come back when he probably shouldn’t.

    At this point though, I think we’ll see a rotation at ILB of Daryl Smith, Jameel McClain, Josh Bynes, and Arthur Brown. As the season progresses, I think we’ll see more Daryl Smith and Arthur Brown. The fact is that Smith is probably the team’s best run-defending linebacker and Brown is arguably the fastest.

    I am curious about Bryan Hall. I’d love to see that guy get some actual playing time.

  5. RJ on said:

    It’s articles like these that keep me coming back to this site. RSR asks good questions and provides great analysis of the entire Ravens organization and is now my go-to site for all Baltimore Ravens news.

    As far as McClain is concerned, I think we have seen the limits of his physical capablities, and they are wholly average when compared to other similar players at his position. His leadership skills might be phemonemal, but we (the public) haven’t really had a chance to see them first-hand thanks to Ray Lewis dominating the locker room and media for the entire time he’s been with the organization. For years now I have been waiting for McClain to “break-out” the same way I was hoping Flacco would (and finally did in the play-offs, though we’ll see if he can keep it up during the regular season), but I don’t think Jameel is going to be more than what we’ve already seen, which is underwhelimng.

  6. Gabe on said:

    I think that Smithband McClain will start, but on passing downs the Ravens will swap out one of them for Arthur Brown. If another LB shows he has good pass coverage they could swap Smith and McClain out in favor of a stronger pass coverage.

  7. Tgun#42 on said:

    I dont even think McClain makes the team if Bynes and Hall play well. I think Smith can easily be the “green dot” guy and Brown will start. That gives us a balance of speed and runstoppin ability we have not had sice Ray and Bart Scott.

    • Paul Lukoskie on said:

      If he can play, he’ll make the team. Monetary/Contractual reasons alone ensures he’ll make the team.

      Additionally, Jameel may not be a great cover linebacker, but he is probably an overall better defender than pretty much every other LB on the roster outside of Daryl Smith; yes, I’m not ready to say Arthur Brown is better than Jameel yet. Simply stated, Arthur Brown has yet to take an NFL snap. Jameel has been a starter on this team for multiple years.

      Finally, Jameel is a locker room leader, has been in charge of making defense calls (green dot as Filmstudy pointed out earlier), and probably knows the defense better than any ILB right now on the squad.

      The only way Jameel doesn’t make this team is if he physically can’t play anymore. Even then, they may keep him on as a coach.

  8. Sami on said:

    Its obvious to most Ravens fans that Tony knows little about the inner workings or the players on the Ravens roster. And to quote pro Football Focus proves it.

    • Clinton Macsherry on said:

      To your first sentence, I’d say exactly the opposite. To your second, I’d note all that a number of nega-posters complain when RSR blogger offer opinions without supporting sources. Can’t win, I guess…

  9. pvrcbabe on said:

    I think it is too soon to even speculate what will happen. Yes, Jameel has been starting, but we now have some new guys on the team, and Smith has the experience. Training camp and the pre-season will tell the true story.

  10. Bmore Ravens Swagg on said:

    Im just going to see how training camp pan’s out… So many good players this year so lets just see what LB wants it more

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