Jameel McClain has been the surprise of training camp.
The former undrafted free agent had earned a vast majority of reps at inside linebacker with the first-team defense, outplaying Dannell Ellerbe and Tavares Gooden, who combined to start 17 of 18 total games at the position last year.
But while coaches have been raving about McClain's play and seemingly giving him every opportunity to win the job next to Ray Lewis on the inside, McClain hasn't locked up that spot just yet.
That was evident on Saturday, when Ellerbe got the reps with the first-team defense on the inside, while McClain ran with the second-team.
Despite his strong play in training camp, where he's shown impressive pass rush skills, strength fighting off blockers at the line of scrimmage and the ability to turn and run in coverage, McClain didn't show very well in last Thursday's preseason opener, as he was out of position on a few occasions.
The Syracuse product was the one of the main reasons that Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams was able to open up a 23-yard run right through the teeth of the Baltimore defense.
On Saturday, the team's first practice after the preseason contest, it was Ellerbe (who started the final seven games at the Jack linebacker spot last year) who was back playing with the 1's.
An undrafted free agent himself last year, Ellerbe played very well down the stretch and into the postseason in his rookie campaign, and looked to be the favorite to earn the inside linebacker job again coming into camp this season.
But he put on some weight this offseason and looked a little bigger during offseason minicamps. Ellerbe admits that he got "a little heavy", but has cut down the weight and came into camp at 239 pounds, which is actually four fewer than he played at last year.
"I feel like I could be in better shape, but you could always be in better shape," he says. "I played a whole game though [in the preseason opener], so I feel like I'm in game shape."
The Georgia product says that he still feels like he has a shot at the starting job, and will use the remainder of camp and the next three preseason contests to try and earn that spot.
"I feel like I've been having a pretty good camp the whole time," Ellerbe said. "I don't feel like I've been up and down, I think I've been consistent. That's the key for me. [That] and staying healthy."
McClain might still have an edge as he, Ellerbe, and (to a lesser extent) Gooden battle it out for playing time, but the competition is far from over. Saturday's practice was evidence of that fact.