By Matthew Asher
Robert “Reggie” McClain, CB #27
Height: 5′ 9″
Hometown: Lusby, Maryland
College: Connecticut (UConn)
Experience: 3 years
Admit it, when the Falcons signed cornerback Robert McClain in the offseason you had one of two thoughts: “Why does Atlanta need another cornerback with the signing of Asante Samuel?” or, more likely, “Who the heck is Robert McClain?”
Both thoughts were completely justifiable. Brent Grimes had been with the Falcons since 2007 and had been producing for them since 2008. Asante Samuel had already been selected to the Pro Bowl three times before joining the Falcons. Like Grimes, Chris Owens was drafted by Atlanta and already had three good years under his belt. Why pick up another player who will be playing for his third team in as many years?
Hindsight being what it is, the Falcons organization seemed to know what it was doing. In Week 1 against the Chiefs, Grimes tore his Achilles tendon and was officially placed on the team’s IR just a few days later.
In Week 2 against the Denver Broncos, Samuel needed to be taken out in the first quarter and McClain was put in. A handful of plays later, McClain records his first career interception against one of the all-time greats: Peyton Manning. Not bad for a guy selected with the 249th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
“The coaches always tell you to prepare because anyone can go down,” McClain said. “What happened is unfortunate to Brent Grimes, but it gave me the opportunity to go out there and show the coaches what I can do in actual game situations.”
While McClain hasn’t exactly been rewriting the history books this season, he’s done a damn fine job of filling in as both Owens and Samuel have been hit by the injury bug throughout the season. Primarily used as the nickel cornerback, McClain has been involved in about 88 percent of all defensive snaps (from Weeks 2-13). Through Week 14 where McClain has played in 12 games, he’s recorded 35 tackles (31 of them solo), 6 pass deflections and one fumble recovery.
While McClain has certainly been a pleasant surprise for the Falcons secondary, it’s not like he came out of nowhere. In college, just like this season, his statistics were never eye-popping, but they have always been consistent.
While he did play on special teams for the Huskies his freshman year in 2006, it was McClain’s sophomore campaign when he started making plays on defense. Playing in 13 games in 2007, McClain recorded 30 tackles (19 solo), three interceptions and three pass breakups. He was made a starter in the final game of the Huskies season against West Virginia.
As a junior, McClain continued to improve. He may have finished the season with the same number of tackles and interceptions as he had his sophomore year, but he was able to return two of the three interceptions for touchdowns. UConn defeated their rival Buffalo University 38-20 at the International Bowl where McClain recorded eight tackles (3.5 for losses).
McClain’s senior season again saw improvement. Robert’s 4 interceptions was the second-most in the Big East conference that year and recorded 60 tackles in the regular season, the third most on the team. McClain also returned 15 punts averaging just under 15 yards per return with one going for a touchdown. In UConn’s bowl game against South Carolina, McClain had four tackles (two for losses) and three pass breakups.
One of the reasons McClain has done well in the NFL is the familiarity he’s had with the nickel position in college. Just like with the Falcons, McClain played starting corner, nickel and outside corner with UConn. It’s his aggressive attitude that has kept McClain involved in every play.
“I don’t care if somebody catches the ball, I’m going to keep fighting with them the whole game,” McClain said. “I’m on the field and I want to be the aggressor. I want to play on my terms and make the offense play on those terms.” For now, McClain has been a great support player for Atlanta. One can only hope that next season his play will continue to evolve.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.