Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain experienced a scary moment last season during a Week 12 game against the Washington Redskins.
He injured his neck trying to make a tackle and was motionless for a moment. The severity of the injury became known the following week as he was diagnosed with a spinal cord contusion and placed on injured reserve as a result.
It was expected that he'd be ready for the 2012 season, though a blip on his MRI was slow to clear up. Placed on the physically unable to perform list to begin the season, McClain has had to wait patiently for clearance.
His MRI finally came back clean which allows him to practice again. McClain participated with his teammates for the first time since his injury on Wednesday. He's yet to be activated to the 53-man roster as the Ravens have three weeks to do so.
Before practice, McClain spoke to a horde of reporters who wanted to know what the process was like for the veteran linebacker, who came to the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2008.
Question: Not only have you gotten some good news with returning to practice but you got some good news regarding the injury.
Jameel McClain: Yeah, yeah, definitely great news. They tried to kill me, I'm not dead, I'm still here. I'm still doing what I love and fighting for the team. We're back at it this week and we'll see how it goes.
Q: Mentally you've stayed in it, you've been around the team, you've been at practice. But physically you get to step back out there. How does that feel?
JM: Physically, it feels great to go back out there. But we all know the game is different watching on film than being in the cleats. I've got to get the groove for that and continue, and we'll see where it goes.
Q: At times, you said you didn't know where it was going to go. [Wednesday], you get to step back on the practice field. Mentally, how does this feel?
JM: It feels good. It felt good when I knew that I was going to be able to step back out on the field. That news was great. But it's back to work as always. That's the part of my journey that's behind me. Now, I got to move forward to the next step.
Q: How long do you think it's going to take to knock off some of the rust?
JM: If you ask me, I'm ready right now. That's just my opinion on it. That'll be for the coaches and Ozzie [Newsome] to decide how long it takes to knock the rust off.
Q: What exactly did you have?
JM: It was a spinal contusion. It was something that would heal on its own time. What we really had to do was wait. There was no treatment necessary. It was just working out and get ready for the spot [on the MRI] to go away.
Q: How strong is the itch to get back out there?
JM: Strong. You understand the feeling of watching people play day in and day out and getting to see my teammates put their pads on and go to work while I had to stand around and watch. It's no doubt that I'm itching but I'm preparing myself mentally and physically coming into this game.
Q: Is there any sort of timetable whatsoever?
JM: I don't think there's any timetable anymore. All it is right now is a coaches' decision in how they feel I look there, how I feel I look and feeling out there — that's basically all we're going off. The injury is gone. You ask me again, I'll say it every time. The injury is gone. That's past me. Right now I'm focusing on how to be in football shape and how to get ready for this practice. I'm not even thinking about the game [against Pittsburgh].
Q: If there is a timetable, it's a three-week timetable [PUP grace period] for a decision to be made, but do you have it in your mind that you have to do it in the next three weeks?
JM: There is no rush. The organization isn't rushing me, my teammates aren't rushing me, nobody's rushing me. There is no rush. We'll just get back to it when it's time to get back to it. That's a decision they'll make.
Q: Where do you feel like you'll fit in? Obviously, Daryl [Smith] and Josh [Bynes] have been playing pretty well. When you do come back, where do you think you'll fit in?
JM: Fit in as a football player, as I always fit in. I'll come in and play how I play when given the opportunity. I know I've got to come back in and work just like everybody else.
Q: John [Harbaugh] talked about the process, just about how diligent you've been working out. Being in shape is different than being in football shape, but how do you feel physically and where are you weight-wise right now?
JM: Physically, I feel good; weight-wise, I'm about 247 [pounds], what I'm normally around. Mentally, staying locked in. But the toughest part about all this is making sure you're ready on the physical part when it comes to the games. You can look at it on film and go through all of that. But once you put on the cleats, it's a whole different game. That's what I'm looking forward to the most, seeing how I respond to that part.
Q: Given that was the spine, Coach Harbaugh said during training camp it was something he consulted with you about, something even your family had talked about. Was there any thought about not coming back at all because of the nature of the injury?
JM: There was so much negativity I couldn't afford to think negative. All I could do was believe in myself and believe in what I was capable of doing — whether it was coming in here as an undrafted free agent or whether it was coming back from an injury that most people thought I wouldn't be able to come back from. I fought the odds once and I'll fight them again, and did it again. I always had to believe in myself, especially in a world full of negativity.
Q: Do you have butterflies right now? What's it feel like?
JM: It was in the morning. I was like a little kid [Tuesday night]. I was tossing and turning, kept thinking about my first day coming to practice. Now, it's just work as usual. As soon as I walk through that field, it's work.