Atlanta Falcons: Robert McClain set to face team that cut him





BY MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons’ locker room was boisterous after they defeated the Saints last week, and as usual, the party was liveliest at the defensive backs’ end of the locker room.

Cornerback Asante Samuel and safety William Moore, two of the team’s more colorful players, led the celebration. Cornerback Dunta Robinson and safety Thomas DeCoud, two more fun-loving veterans, joined in.

And then there was reserve cornerback Robert McClain, who was singing along to the music just as loudly as the others. McClain sounded as if he belonged as he brushed off any concern about critics who doubt the Falcons and talked about their plan to be physical against the Saints.

“It was a big game,” McClain said this week. “I felt the energy.”

McClain showed it, too, and that’s a change for him. He’s soft-spoken by nature while players such as Samuel and Moore aren’t shy about expressing supreme confidence in their abilities.

Cornerback Robert McClain appears ready to go enthusiastically taking the field for practice in Flowery Branch on Monday, July 30, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Cornerback Robert McClain appears ready to go enthusiastically taking the field for practice in Flowery Branch on Monday, July 30, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

McClain’s self-assurance has grown through exposure to his teammates in the secondary.

“It’s been good for me,” McClain said. “I’m not trying to change my personality, but it has helped me become more comfortable to see how they play the game and how they approach the game. It’s still just football.”

McClain has been a key find for the Falcons. His role has steadily increased because of injuries to Samuel, Brent Grimes and Christopher Owens, and he played well as the nickel back against the Saints.

McClain came to the Falcons in the offseason as a so-called “street” free agent. Now he fits in seamlessly with veterans in the defensive backfield because of his solid play and his increasing confidence.

Defensive backs coach Tim Lewis and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan noticed it while watching a practice this week.

“When he first got here, he wouldn’t say a word to anybody, and now he’s beaming with confidence,” Lewis said. “Confidence can be a fragile thing, but I truly think he has a swagger because he’s made some plays and he’s been accepted by this team, by the core players.”

That’s significant for a player who never planned on an NFL career while at the University of Connecticut — McClain figured he would join the Marines — and who seemed on his way out of the league before this season.

McClain played in all 16 games, with two starts, as a rookie with Carolina in 2010. After the Panthers released him before last season, he was on Jacksonville’s inactive list for a couple of weeks in December 2011.

The Falcons signed McClain in the offseason as a future free agent, and Lewis liked what he saw while watching some video of the new arrival. Lewis also liked McClain’s knowledge when the two sat down to talk while reviewing those games and was impressed by his play during the offseason camps.

Word got to Falcons veterans that McClain had potential.

“Coach Lewis gave us a head’s up on him said, ‘We’ve got us a steal,’” Moore said.

McClain’s play during the exhibition games confirmed those early impressions.

“It became more and more apparent he’s a football player in the NFL,” Lewis said. “Whether or not we were going to be able to hang on to him was going to be the issue because of the numbers issue.”

The Falcons already had Robinson, Samuel, Grimes and Owens at cornerback. When Grimes suffered a season-ending injury during the first game, Owens stepped in at nickel back, and McClain was added to the active roster.

Then Owens and Samuel both were hurt early in in Week 2 against Denver, forcing McClain to play significant snaps. Panthers coach Ron Rivera saw the player his team had cut making plays against the Broncos.

“I really saw him stand out,” Rivera said. “I thought he did a really nice job. Then I’ve watched him on tape (in other games), and he’s a solid football player. Sometimes all you need is an opportunity, and that’s what he’s got. Kudos to Robert.”

Now it’s hard to tell the difference between McClain and the Falcons’ other defensive backs. Like them, McClain is playing well, and he knows it.

“Dude can play some ball,” Moore said. “The day he stepped in he took over. He’s been lights out. I know for sure he’s going to get better down the stretch.”

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32 comments Add your comment

Esquire

December 7th, 2012
9:12 am

McClain has been playing lights out……………!!!!

Esquire

December 7th, 2012
9:12 am

WE ARE THE MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS!!!

The Big Fat Blogger

December 7th, 2012
9:20 am

McClain has truly been a gemstone for us this year, I will dare say that he has been our best coverage cornerback this year…

Answer This

December 7th, 2012
9:47 am

Welcome to the NATION McClain!

dean

December 7th, 2012
10:03 am

With his never quit attitude, he would have made a DGM.
Keep whacking them Robert.

Falcon James

December 7th, 2012
10:14 am

I think most of us have been impressed with McClain. Didn’t know too much about his history until this article.

MaxxFalcon

December 7th, 2012
10:19 am

I, like the rest of us, have been pleasantly surprised with Robert McClain. He has been huge for us. I honestly thought Peyton Thompson outplayed him in the preseason. I’m looking forward to Peyton Thompson getting an opportunity, as he could be another steal at CB

Royalty1

December 7th, 2012
10:24 am

Good article, thanks for extra on a great player in the making

D man

December 7th, 2012
10:48 am

Wow, they made a huge mistake cutting McClain. This guy can play some defense. Some guys just need a couple of years to get going. I’m glad he is on our super team…

Hamp

December 7th, 2012
10:59 am

What was a sore/weak spot is now a pleasent suprise. Owens is maturing and McClain is playing well too. I think we might have two future starters. I love grimes but he may be too expensive and he has had a couple nasty injuries the last two years. I’m glad he got at least this big paycheck because he earned it literally. Grimes may be looking for a job.

Post-it

December 7th, 2012
11:03 am

Love having him out there. He just keeps making plays. There’s another great article in the NY Times on one of our hidden gems currently on the practice squad if anyone’s interested.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/magazine/the-hard-life-of-an-nfl-long-shot.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

Louisiana Falcon

December 7th, 2012
11:05 am

@Hamp–I think you are having a case of out of sight, out of mind. Grimes is to good to cut loose like that. We need to keep him if he still has his exposiveness.

I usually just read but...

December 7th, 2012
11:24 am

Grimes could price himself right out of a job. He had a serious injury that many players never completely recover from. Some do. My thinking is his cutting ability will be late next season coming back, if it ever does. As much as I like Grimes he doesn’t help our cap situation any. We’re 11-1 without him, save the $ and move on. Hell, he held the entire organization hostage over greed IMO. I no longer see him as a team player. His contract was an insult to his team mates and fans. Let him walk, keep McClain and move on.

Falcon James

December 7th, 2012
11:32 am

Mighty Mouse Grimes was…..was……a decent CB for us. The Falcon only signed him to a one year deal. They got nothing for the money paid out on his contract. Just like the LB that came out of Jacksonville and got hurt in camp. I absolutely hope he recovers 100% from his injury, but I can’t see any chance that he will get another contract with the Falcon.

lowdownjj

December 7th, 2012
12:12 pm

Bobby Mac has gotten taller, and paler since I saw him last Thurs playing against the Aints. Looks almost like Matt Ryan in that picture. Funny how he excels and Dunta drastically improve this year, huh?think maybe Mike Nolan’s presence has a lot to do with that?

lowdownjj

December 7th, 2012
12:14 pm

Meant to say Dunta AND Owens drastically improve…

Falcon James

December 7th, 2012
12:35 pm

@Post-It

Thanks for the link man!! Great article

Mr. Hankey (Pankey.)

December 7th, 2012
2:06 pm

What a delightful bit of serendipity to find such an obvious jewel in the castoff graveyard of the NFL. Keep playing well, R. Mac, and we’ll all be saying, “Brent who?” Sorry, Grimey, but you may have lost a position and that may not be so serendipitious.

Mr. Hankey (Pankey.)

December 7th, 2012
2:07 pm

Please read above post in the voice of Stewy Griffin for best effect. Thanks.

The management

seriously

December 7th, 2012
2:25 pm

seriously?? Grimes who? Lets not get crazy here. I think Mcclain is doin really well and I am impressed with him, but to suggest thtat hes better than Grimes is just slly. He hasnt proven anything other than he can play ball. Grimes is more atheletic, and a proven seasoned vet, ur ONLY shut down corner. Show some respect.

seriously

December 7th, 2012
2:26 pm

PlanB

December 7th, 2012
2:26 pm

Post-it – Good article on Shiller. Makes me wonder how many good players we have dropped due to not getting a chance. We have read articles and watched players performing well in the preseason never being heard of again until the next preseason if at all. Too bad. What’s the solution? LOOK AT THEM!!!!!

PlanB

December 7th, 2012
2:44 pm

Seriously – I have been one of Grimes’ strongest supporters in the past. With Owens playing better and McClain playing good, I could see that money being used more wisely. Especially since he hasn’t played this year (1) and missed games last year. Hard to pay that kind of money to someone on IR. Grimes $10 mil salary = 3 good $3.3 mil players or 2 new $5 mil players or a $10 mil MLB or DE or DT or OL. We can also use some of that money to resign some of our good guys at the end of their contract. It would be especially nice to make a trade. Is that possible??

PMC

December 7th, 2012
3:03 pm

Robert McClain is the new Brent Grimes. Love Robert McClain.

Man…if only Grimetime could have been healthy this year…..

PMC

December 7th, 2012
3:03 pm

OG20 earned every single red cent this team ever paid him.

seriously

December 7th, 2012
3:04 pm

PlanB- If Grimes can come back 100% and be the same player( I do have my doubts wih that injury) then hes worth it. His production was down last year from the year before cause QB’s stopped hrowing to his side. The fact is, hes our best cover corner by far. Samuel is old and hes all or nothing. He gives way too much cushion to receivers for my taste. Dunta cant cover anybody. I think they should restructer his contract cause he is grossly over paid. That would free up more than 10 mill… And if we dont keep him he will more than likely go to one of our divisional foes and we would have to deal with him twce a year,no thanks. lol

seriously

December 7th, 2012
3:09 pm

and Owens has screwed the pooch way too many times over the last few years for me to think hes turned a corner after just one decent game.

bullrusher1

December 7th, 2012
3:12 pm

I was at the Broncos game w/ my dad when Asante got hurt. When McClain stepped out, he asked me “Who’s #27?”, I respond “Robert McClain”, my Dad says “Man, we need a corner with a name when playing Manning”. Three plays later, McClain makes an amazing interception and returns the ball about forty yards. I turn to my Dad and say, “No-name guy has some skillz”. McClain’s been great ever since.

okeetee

December 7th, 2012
7:39 pm

It’s a passers league, and if you don’t have a smart and athletic secondary your going to be toast! This is the MOST athletic and without question, the SMARTEST secondary we have ever had! It use to be with the Falcons that when the defensive huddle broke, only 1 guy knew where he was suppose to be in the secondary. NOW, when the defensive huddle breaks, only 1 guy doesn’t know where he’s suppose to be and 3 guys DO! We need to sign this kid in the off season no matter what it takes! You can never have enough good, smart and athletic guys in the secondary! Like one scout said years ago: “If you don’t draft this wide receiver when you have the chance…..you better draft somebody that can cover him!” We now have 4 maybe 5 excellent cover guys! I don’t think Aaron Rogers is going to slap 50 points on us again anytime soon!!!

meme

December 7th, 2012
9:51 pm

when Grimes got the big contract this year I was happy for him it was like he got his back pay. too bad he got injured, to be his size he plays HUGE. Hope he returns HUGE.

meme

December 7th, 2012
10:28 pm

McClain & Grimes came out of the same place (nowhere) to be really good players

Mikey

December 8th, 2012
9:31 am

Nice article DLed! McClain is the real deal. It is so nice to see tight man-to-man coverage again rather than that “10 yard cushion and try to tackle him before he gets a touchdown”. McClain sticks to receivers like glue and seems to be capable of staying with anyone and closing a gap when he must. I give him credit as well as to his coaches and Smith/TD for grabbing him. The secondary is HOT this year and the depth is WONDERFUL. GO FALCONS! YOU ARE RISING UP!