Jameel McClain moves to middle of defense

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants received encouraging news about Jon Beason on Tuesday, and Jameel McClain as well.

McClain was inserted at middle linebacker with the first unit in Beason's absence, on Day 1 of the Giants' three-day mandatory minicamp. And by the sounds of it, he already has the confidence of the team's other defensive leaders.

"[McClain] knows exactly what to do, when to do it and how to do it," safety Antrel Rolle said. "He's a guy that, if need be, can definitely step up and fill whatever role that he needs to fill and make sure we don't miss a beat."

The addition of McClain back in mid-March did not generate much buzz -- in fact, it was overshadowed by Beason himself, who re-upped with the Giants just one day before. But it could prove to be one of the Giants' most important moves of the offseason.

If Beason makes it back by Week 1, which is the goal, McClain will probably still start alongside him. And if Beason isn't ready, the Giants have a very experienced player to fill his shoes.

The seven-year veteran, who will turn 29 next month, played in 87 games for the Baltimore Ravens from 2008 to 2013, including 55 starts -- not too shabby for an undrafted free agent.

McClain started all 10 games he played in last season, after recovering from a spinal cord contusion the year before. But the Ravens cut him at the end of February, saving $3.2 million in salary-cap space.

He played in a 3-4 system in Baltimore, but McClain sounds confident he can adapt to the Giants' 4-3 scheme quickly. He has played both inside and outside linebacker, and often made the defensive calls for the Ravens, meaning he should have little trouble handling that when manning the middle for the Giants.

"It is a little different [system], but football is football," McClain said. "Most important is knowing what you're doing, how to get people lined up, and how to play this game physical. That’s football, in any position."

The charismatic Beason emerged as a team leader after the Giants acquired him from the Carolina Panthers last October. McClain appears to have a similar personality. He looks and sounds very comfortable here already, singing on his way out of the shower Tuesday and embracing the media swarm around his locker.

"That's what this league is. This league is opportunity, and the chance for players to show themselves," McClain said. "Fortunately we will get Jon back, so we're blessed to have that. But what we have now is the chance for a lot of people to step up and step into positions that they normally wouldn't have been in, and that's always good for a football team."

Veteran defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said it's possible for a new player like McClain to become a team leader very quickly.

"I think the nature of that position, people have to hear your voice every play," Kiwanuka said. "And the kind of guy that he is, how hard he works, that kind of thing, people respect production. If you’re out there on the field every day and producing ... that's something that people want to follow."

The Giants' defense will be following McClain for the rest of this three-day minicamp and most of training camp, if not longer. He is suddenly one of the team's most important players, and will be providing some unique touches, as evidenced by the "Woo!" shouts that punctuated the Giants' defensive huddles Tuesday.

"Yeah, that was a little Ric Flair," McClain said, chuckling. "That was something that I brought to give a little flavor to some already flavorful and colorful players."