Not many first-year players get the chance to lead the way. Those roles are almost exclusively reserved for NFL veterans.
As a member of Baltimore's 2007 rookie class, fullback Le'Ron McClain enjoyed the unique opportunity to play a leading role – paving the way for Willis McGahee and the Ravens' running game.
"I was hopeful when they drafted me, because they took me pretty early in the fourth [round]," McClain said. "I was thinking I'd have the opportunity to come in and contribute, at least on special teams."
Early on, the snaps on special teams came just as expected. But with incumbent Ovie Mughelli off to Atlanta via free agency, and Justin Green out for most of training camp with a knee injury, McClain became the team's primary lead-blocker.
"Everybody here realized that we lost a real good player in Ovie Mughelli and that we were able to come back and get Le'Ron McClain," general manager Ozzie Newsome said of his draft choice. "It was amazing the number of texts and calls that we got from other teams around the League that had the similar feelings that we did about Le'Ron."
The Alabama alumnus paid dividends immediately, helping the Ravens rush for 157 yards and hauling in a touchdown catch in Baltimore's first preseason game against Philadelphia.
"My first game, scoring a touchdown, it felt great," said McClain. "The night before, I just dreamed about that happening."
The Ravens steamrolled the Eagles 29-3 that night, but as the season wore on, McClain's Super Bowl dreams faded.
Despite the team's struggles, individual contributions buoyed his morale. Willis McGahee ranked among the league-leaders in rushing all season, due in large part to McClain's steady lead-blocking.
"It was hard because I just wanted to win. I had such high hopes for the season," said the fullback. "But at the same time, I felt proud of the way I was able to play as a rookie."
The Ravens' coaching team was equally impressed by his play; McClain maintained the starting role through the season.
"I always told myself if I had a chance at the job, I would go all-out and let everything fall into place," he said.
Entering his first NFL offseason, McClain is determined to build upon the success he enjoyed in his first year.
"I want to improve every part of my game," he said emphatically. "My run-blocking, pass-protection, hands, vision – everything. I want to be known as the best fullback in the league next year; that's my goal."
With such lofty aspirations for his sophomore campaign, this offseason is critical to his progress.
In his efforts to grow, McClain will return to his roots: the Crimson Tide weight room. There, he will toil under the guidance of his former strength coach Terry Jones (the father of former Ravens' tight end Terry Jones, Jr.).
McClain said his old trainer will have a stringent workout regimen, and he envisions a svelter version of himself in 2008.
"I'll work hard to maintain my strength, but I also want to shed a little weight," he said. "Right now I'm about 255 [pounds]. I want to get down to around 245 and hopefully gain some quickness."
Though he showed no deficiencies in strength or speed as a rookie, McClain acknowledged he has work to do to improve his stamina.
Sometime in late November, he hit the proverbial "rookie wall."
"I hit it, and I hit it hard, man," McClain admitted. "In college, we're done playing football in December. We got a month off to get ready for a bowl game, and a lot of that is downtime. Here, you have to push through the whole month. It's a grind.
"I realized I had to make some adjustments. I had to cut out a lot of my social life to make sure my body was getting all the rest it needed."
The lessons learned as a rookie leave McClain optimistic for his second go-around.
"I want teams to see me on tape and know that they have to game plan for me," he explained. "I want the coaches to say, 'Alright, now we need to be ready for this fullback. He's a thumper, and he can do a lot of different things.' That's how I want to be recognized."
Motivated and dedicated, McClain looks to lead the way again in 2008. And why shouldn't he?
He's no longer a rookie.