McClain Surprised Everyone in ’12, Even Lewis

McClain Surprised Everyone in ’12, Even Lewis

Jay Adams

Published June 4, 2013 at 10:32 AM

Falcons secondary coach Tim Lewis has a lengthy NFL resume that includes two stints as a defensive coordinator, both with the Steelers and Giants. He’s been around the league since 1995, so it’s rare — very rare — when he sees something he’s never seen before or when a player comes from nowhere to surprise him.

In the home opener of the 2012 season, Lewis experienced one of those rare moments when cornerback Robert McClain — a virtually unknown player who was signed by the Falcons after time with Jacksonville and Carolina — was called upon to enter the game after injuries had begun to decimate the secondary. Moments after his arrival on the field against Denver, McClain again came from out of nowhere to pick off none other than Peyton Manning for his first career interception.

Lewis would probably like to say that McClain caught his eye on film last year after the Falcons signed him and the coach just knew that McClain was going to be something special. Truth is, none of that happened. Sure, McClain did more than enough to make the 53-man roster, ultimately beating out Dominique Franks as the last cornerback, after a tremendous training camp, but Lewis never expected McClain to turn into the player he is now, being a relied-upon asset in the secondary heading into 2013.

“He gets to training camp and he just kept doing things the way we wanted them done,” Lewis said during OTAs last week. “He kept showing up. He kept making plays.”

After the big interception against Manning, that level of play continued for McClain as he found himself on the field more and more as each week passed.

On paper to start the year, the Falcons could boast one of the best secondaries in the league with Asante Samuel, Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes, but just one game in and Grimes was out for the season with an Achilles injury. Robinson and Samuel both spent a good part of the year banged up, which swung the door wide open for McClain to come in and make some noise himself.

And did he ever.

“(McClain) was the fifth guy that we tried at nickel,” Lewis said after naming off Christopher Owens and Franks as potential replacements at the position when the injuries started piling up. “During the bye week, we trained him and he started there after and didn’t look back.

“The NFL is all about opportunity. It’s about being prepared when your number is called and he did that.”

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