CHARLOTTE – Rookie Terrell McClain walks off the field after a two-hour practice in 95-degree heat and greets a reporter with a smile and handshake.
The smile doesn’t leave his face the entire time he talks about his brief time with the Carolina Panthers and his future with the organization. McClain is loving life, ecstatic about the fact he’s been given a chance to live out his lifelong dream to play in the NFL.
The Panthers selected the 6-foot-2, 291-pound defensive tackle from South Florida in the third round of April’s NFL draft and he’s expected to play a big role in Carolina’s defense this season.
McClain is currently listed as second on the depth chart behind the unproven and previously underachieving Corvey Irvin, but they’ve been sharing reps with the first team in practice in recent days. With two preseason games left there’s still a chance for McClain to win the starting job before the regular season begins.
“Things are going great,” McClain said. “I’m just thrilled to be here.”
McClain arrived at training camp in Spartanburg, S.C., three days late because of a brief contract holdout and that put him a little behind. He worked hard to catch up but now feels comfortable in the team’s scheme.
“The first day I got to camp they were already in pads and they just threw me out there,” McClain said. “So I had to learn pretty quickly, but every day I’m getting more and more comfortable.”
Not that McClain has to know all that much.
Compared to other positions, his job is fairly simple.
McClain plays the three technique tackle spot which basically means his job is to penetrate the B gap and get into the backfield and be disruptive. After a strong showing against the New York Giants, McClain and rest of Carolina’s defense struggled Friday night against Miami.
“Playing the three spot I get a little more freedom to penetrate through and do what I do best which is get off the ball and show up in the backfield,” McClain said. “I’m actually loving it here. The play calls are good. The defensive coordinator knows what he’s doing and the defensive line coach knows what he’s doing so I can’t want to see what happens this season.”
At South Florida, McClain played in 50 games with 33 starts.
He had 89 tackles (17 for a loss), 7.5 sacks and 10 quarterback pressures. He was received first-team All-Big East Conference honors as a senior.
Off the field McClain said he likes to chill and is a self-described “movie fanatic.”
His favorite actor is Will Smith, but can’t name a favorite movie because he loves so many. He joked that after football he might consider becoming a movie critic, although he’s hoping that career is long way away.
For now, his focus is on winning the starting job
“If the opportunity is there I’m going to take it,” McClain said. “I told them when they were scouting me that I will do whatever it takes to make this team better and win games. If I have to sit out a year, I will sit out a year. But if you throw me in I’m going to run hard to the ball and make some plays.”
CORNERBACK HUNTING: Coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers are still sorting through what to do with their cornerback situation.
“We have a question mark there,” Rivera said. “Chris (Gamble) has played himself back into shape; he's getting there and he's a guy that we count on to be out on the field and do some things for us. Captain (Munnerlyn) right now is assuming the role as one of the starters, one of the potential starters, and also a guy that could fit for us in the nickel situation.
“Then we've got a group of young guys that are all fighting for playing time. It is a question for us, and, hopefully, we can get some of those questions answered this weekend.”
The Panthers have made it fairly clear they’re in the market for a potential No. 2 cornerback who could start opposite Gamble, but a move isn’t expected until after the teams make their final cuts on Sept. 3.
That would allow the team to move Munnerlyn back to nickel back.
“He plays physical,” Rivera said of Munnerlyn. “I know people tag him as a small corner, but he's a small guy that plays big. If he continues to play like that, he can be very effective for what we want. He brings a presence for us as far as playing the nickel position.”
It’s too early to say what free agents cornerbacks will come available on Sept. 3, but keep a close eye on those who’ve had a history with Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.
DAVIS KNOCKING OFF RUST: LB Thomas Davis admitted after Friday night’s game against Miami he needs to get in better football shape, which is expected after such a long layoff due to back-to-back knee injuries.
“I think if you compare what happened with Thomas early on, you can see him start to get more comfortable,” Rivera said. “He was rusty. What he's done, he's knocked it off. The biggest thing you see with Thomas is the more and more comfort he gets within the system, you can see him start to just let it go and play. I think that's the biggest thing - just being comfortable.”
INJURY UPDATE: The same four starters remain out of practice – LB Jon Beason (Achilles), RT Jeff Otah (knee), RG Geoff Schwartz (hip) and FB Tony Fiammetta (concussion).
As for Schwartz, who hasn’t practiced in a couple of weeks now, Rivera said Tuesday the team is still waiting until he feels better.
“He got the injection less than a week ago, and we're waiting for that to help settle it down and then we're going to go from there,” Rivera said. “We're really in a waiting pattern to see how he reacts to the medicine.”
DE Greg Hardy continues to practice on a limited basis and Rivera is holding out hope he’ll play Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.