Versatile Rookie Jacques McClendon Working at Center in 2010 Colts Training Camp
ANDERSON, Ind. – As Jacques McClendon sees it, it's the ideal situation.
No, he hasn't played center before.
So, yes, doing it for the first time in the NFL presents challenges.
Doing it as a rookie does, too, but McClendon – the Colts' fourth-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft –said while there are difficulties, that's true of any rookie at any position. And he said what's most imant is his critical advantage: Jeff Saturday.
McClendon, who played collegiately at Tennessee, said he has learned extensively from the four-time Pro Bowl selection, and the way he sees it, that makes his situation not only exciting, but one in which he can succeed.
"It's an advantage for me," McClendon said recently during Colts 2010 Training Camp, which will continue Monday with a pair of practices at Anderson University.
"Most people don't come in and have a guy like that who's willing to help them. As much as I ask him and as much as he's on the field, he helps me.
"I consider it an advantage for me to become a better player down the road."
McClendon (6-feet-3, 324 pounds), the No. 129 selection in the draft, started six games at guard in both his sophomore and junior seasons, moving into the starting lineup permanently as a senior.
He solidified his status in the draft late in his career and during the off-season following his senior season. After working at guard throughout his collegiate career, he said the Colts approached him about working at center shortly after the team's rookie mini-camp.
The Colts value versatility on the offensive line, often asking players – particularly interior linemen – to play multiple positions.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said McClendon is capable of doing so.
"McClendon is a guy who's obviously strong and athletic, but also extremely smart," Caldwell said. "He's a versatile guy, so he fits right into our system because of the fact that we have a number of guys who play multiple positions. So he's getting his feet wet at both center and a little bit of guard as well.
"So I just think that he's our kind of guy."
McClendon said it was evident quickly that what being the Colts' sort of player along the offensive line meant was being willing to do more than just play his collegiate position.
"I have to know everything," he said. "Versatility is the key. When you come to an organization like this, you always have to be on your heels because you have to be able to play right guard, center and left guard. They need to be able to put you in wherever. That's what my key is right now, making myself as versatile as I can, so when my position comes they can put me in whatever spot they need to put me in."
And while being prepared at guard is a relatively familiar process, McClendon said the same is hardly true of center, a position he said he never played before joining the Colts. McClendon, who said he didn't even play offensive line until his freshman year of college, said at center, "Everything is new to me."
The difference between the two positions is self-explanatory, he said.
"It's just closer," he said. "As you move in, tackle's a little farther, guard's a little closer and center's a little closer. It's just happening a lot faster and there's a lot more you need to know. You're in charge of all the calls. It's a different position, but at the same time, I've been one away. I just moved one over, so it's no problem."
He also said, "It's a transition I know I can do."
"I'm confident I'll be able to pick it up," he said. "With a veteran like Jeff Saturday, looking up to him and watching how he carries himself, if I can be half as good as him, I know I'll be all right."
Saturday, entering his 12th NFL season, has made the Pro Bowl four of the last five seasons, and McClendon said he spent much of the off-season not only watching Saturday's film, but asking him question after question.
"In OTAs, they told me this was something they wanted me to learn and I just ran with it," McClendon said. "I've been in Jeff's back pocket, watching what he does and asking questions. I'm just trying to pick it up day by day."
Watching Saturday and emulating him, McClendon said, are different things. Saturday not only has made four Pro Bowls, he has been with the Colts one season less than Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Just as Manning is responsible for calling plays at the line of scrimmage, Saturday at the same time is equally responsible for reading defenses and calling blocking schemes.
It is, McClendon said, impressive, and something he knows will take time to learn.
"It's unbelievable the way he can read defenses, the way he knows what he's doing," McClendon said. "It's kind of a sixth sense he has. That's something you have to develop over time. I'm just trying to watch what he does. He's done it for a long time. If there's anybody to watch, it's Jeff Saturday. He's a tremendous player and a tremendous person.
"What makes him such a great player is he's the worst critic on himself. It's a never-ending process. You're always trying to get better. He's a 13-year veteran and he's still trying to get better. It's a never-ending process, so there's really no time period. When my time comes, I just have to be ready for it.
"Right now, my focus is really on practicing and making myself a better player, so when that time comes, I'll be ready."