Note: This article originally appeared on KCChiefs.com 2/26/10
Indianapolis, IN – There are a few players here in Indy, that when they exit the podium following media interviews, they leave people feeling good. Ole Miss captain
Maybe the Rebels’ offensive jack of all trades has a leg up on the competition at the podium. He’s a broadcast journalism major and clearly enjoys engaging in conversation. He smiles, he looks people in the eye and he gives good sound bites. He’s even a specialist in impersonations, like when he performed LaDainian Tomlinson’s infamous ball-flip TD celebration after being asked a Chargers-related question.
McCluster leaves you with the feeling that whoever selects him this April is getting themselves someone really special.
For scouts, it also helps that McCluster possesses explosive speed and is quick to turn on a dime. As the pro game continues to evolve with smaller and more versatile offensive players, there is much more demand for a guy like McCluster than there was five years ago. The recent success of similar players like New Orleans’ Reggie Bush and Minnesota’s Percy Harvin make McCluster a beneficiary.
“They are having great success, which is obviously helping me out,” McCluster said. “It’s good to have some people in the league like that right now who are having great success and contributing to a team. That way I can step in and show them that I can make that same impact.”
The recent success of smaller backs in the league has some teams ignoring McCluster’s small frame. He weighed in at 172 pounds at the Combine and he stands at all of 5’7.
“Now, a lot of the teams aren’t even talking about the height or the weight issue,” McCluster said. “A lot of are saying, ‘we really don’t care.’ You’re a play-maker and you play football. That’s what you do and your game speaks for itself.
“They see that I’m not scared to take on the man-to-man block,” McCluster continued. “They see that I can make one man miss. Right now I don’t think it’s such a big issue and it’s never been an issue for me.”
McCluster’s on-field versatility grew considerably in 2009, if that at all seems possible. Previously, when the wide receiver would like up as a running back, opponents knew that the football was going to be in his hands via a rushing play. McCluster wasn’t well-versed enough as an all-around running back to do much more out of that position in 2008, but McCluster set out to change that facet of his game this past offseason.
“This year I was in there and learned all of the pass protection and 70 scans in picking up those defensive ends and linebackers,” McCluster explained. “I handled it pretty well and a lot of people were surprised, but it wasn’t a surprise for me, because I knew that I could go out there and get it done.”
When discussing McCluster, the term “return specialists” gets thrown around a lot along with “wildcat,” “slash,” and anything else that translates into “athlete.” But when it comes to actually returning kicks and punts, McCluster has very little experience. He’s returned just two kicks of any kind since the 2007 season and owns just 27 combined returns for his collegiate career.
Even though he didn’t get too many opportunities to contribute to the return game in college, McCluster is a guy that NFL teams are looking to develop into a return man at the next level.
“A lot of people ask me which one I like best and I have to tell them punt return,” McCluster smiled. “You have to think a little quicker and I love that. My quickness and my ability to stop and go I believe is a big aspect of my game.”
What teams may not know, however, is that McCluster wants to actually cover the kicks in addition to returning them.
“I always try to get on as a gunner on punts,” McCluster said. “Coach (Houston Nutt) wouldn’t let me do it and said that he wanted to save me, but that’s something I love to do.”
McCluster was a punt-team gunner for Ole Miss as a sophomore before he took on a much bigger role in the Mississippi offensive game plan. The results turned out pretty well in McCluster’s view.
“They fair caught it pretty much,” McCluster said matter of fact.
Projected by most scouting services as a second-round pick, analysts believe McCluster’s NFL position will be at wide receiver. But with the recent success of smaller runners in the NFL, some teams are viewing McCluster a bit differently than expected.
“Surprisingly, a lot of teams are looking at me as a running back,” McCluster said. “I love playing running back and I’m comfortable at receiver. Really, I’ll do both and I want to show that I can be a running back who can run a route like a receiver.”
McCluster worked out as both a running back and a wide receiver at the Combine.
“I want to show everybody that there is something different about me,” McCluster said. “Just don’t look at my stature. I don’t care how big or how small you are, I’m going to come at you and I’m not afraid of anything or anybody.”