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McClain looks for rebirth in SD
SAN DIEGO – Le’Ron McClain’s stated first priority when he arrived in San Diego as a free agent signee was to block for Ryan Mathews.
The two-time Pro Bowl fullback, 6-foot and 260 pounds, has held a road-grader job description with the exception of 2008, when injuries led to him rushing for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns as Baltimore’s primary ball-carrier.
Despite his willingness to remain as a primary blocker and his aggressive, contact-seeking mindset, McClain always has appreciated the chance to touch the ball now and again. Last year, the Ravens turned to fullback Vonta Leach.
McClain signed with Kansas City and did not have time to say goodbyes after a protracted lockout. Rushed into training camp in early August, McClain was learning the playbook and adjusting to a new city one month before the season began.
He also rushed just 15 times, his lowest total since his rookie season in 2007.
The Southern California weather and a team he views as a playoff contender aren’t the only reasons he’s thrilled to be with the Chargers. He doesn’t have to scout for housing and familiarize himself with the team facility so close to the season, and he’s grateful for Head Coach Norv Turner’s assessment of his abilities.
“It’s a blessing. Just to hear from him the first day I met with him, him saying, ‘We want to use you more than just that ramming fullback,’ that brought a smile on my face,” McClain said. “It felt good to be wanted. Now I have time to map it out a little and find a place to stay around here. I just got in here real smooth this time.”
A powerful runner between the tackles in short-yardage situations, McClain’s hands serve him well (75 catches for 478 yards since ’08). Turner has a proven willingness to throw to all positions.
His main responsibility will be to clear a path for Mathews, who attended the Pro Bowl himself in January. One of the most significant offseason moves from McClain’s perspective was bringing back Jacob Hester.
“He can bring me along in this offense,” McClain said. “I try and be in his back pocket and do everything that he’s been doing here.”
A zany, excitable personality, McClain already seems to fit well with the other backs.
“He’s going to bring a lot of intensity to the backfield. You can just tell he’s high tempo and he’s a good guy,” Mathews said. “He kind of reminds me of how Mike Tolbert was. He might be a little bit more rambunctious than Mike, just a little more out there, but he’s going to bring a lot. He’s going to be real good for us and he’s going to be fun to play with.”
The Ravens reunion in San Diego – Jarret Johnson, Jared Gaither and Antwan Barnes are current and former teammates – helps, as does a second season in the AFC West.
For his part, McClain is striving for a bit of a bounce-back season.
“I fell back these last few years, but now out here with the San Diego Chargers, they’re giving me another shot, so I’m going to take full advantage of it and do whatever I can to make this backfield the best in the league,” McClain said.
“I’m just amped to be with these guys.”