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Jameel McClain Is Back

Jameel McClain felt like a little kid before his first day of school.

He was tossing and turning and couldn't go to sleep out of sheer excitement.

After sitting out for more than 10 months due to a spinal cord contusion that threatened his chances of ever playing again, McClain has been cleared by doctors to return to the field in both practice and games.

On Wednesday, the Ravens inside linebacker played football for the first time since a hit left him face down in the turf on Dec. 9 in Washington.

"They tried to kill me. I'm not dead," McClain said. "I'm still here, still doing what I love and fighting for this team."

McClain's rehabilitation has been long and full of questions. His injury was so serious that the Ravens consulted McClain's family about whether he should return.

All McClain could do was wait and hope his spinal cord would heal. He continued to train and study with the team in meetings, but had to sit back and watch them go out and play. He did just about everything he would normally do, except suit up.

"There was so much negativity that I couldn't afford to think negative," McClain said. "All I could do was believe in myself and believe in what I was capable of doing."

Now the question is how soon McClain can actually play in a game. He says he physically feels good and is near his usual playing weight of 247 pounds. He twice repeated that his injury is most definitely gone.

He said he's most excited to see how his body responds to actually play football Wednesday.

"We all know the game is different watching it on film than being in the cleats," McClain said. "I've got to get the groove for that with the team and we'll see how it goes. … If you ask me, I'm ready right now. But that's just my opinion. That will be for the coaches and Ozzie and them to decide how long it takes for me to knock the rust off."

Head Coach John Harbaugh was less committal about McClain playing right away. Since he's coming off the physically unable to perform list, McClain has a three-week window to practice before he must be activated to the 53-man roster. Otherwise, he would have to be placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

So the Ravens can take their time and McClain emphasized that nobody is rushing him back to the field.

"We do not know what [this] means for this week, next week or the week after," Harbaugh said. "We do know that it means in three weeks we have to make a decision about whether we put him on the 53-man roster. We'll just have to see how it goes."

It's unknown where McClain will fit when he does return to the active roster.

He was a full-time starter the past three years, in which he compiled a combined 234 tackles and two sacks. He was a leader in the middle of the defense.

But Baltimore has been very happy with the play of veteran Daryl Smith, and the other inside linebacker, Josh Bynes, has an even higher grade than Smith, according to Pro Football Focus. Bynes has received particularly strong grades against the run.

"I just fit in as a football player like I always fit in," McClain said. "I'll come in and play how I play when given the opportunity. I know I've got to come back and work just like everybody else comes back and works."

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