McClendon was an instrumental part of Georgia’s back-to-back titles. He started 37 consecutive games and was a leader along the 2022 offensive line that allowed only nine sacks in 15 games last season. In his final two seasons, McClendon allowed only three quarterback pressures and no sacks in 822 snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
McClendon had an emotional offseason. He was in the vehicle during the crash that killed teammate Devin Willock and Georgia recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy in January. McClendon began therapy after the accident as he tried to move forward with an NFL career.
“I’ve been better,” he said. “I haven’t talked to the lady (therapist) that I was talking to. But I’m still working on some of the things that she helped me with. Like the techniques she told me to use, I still do those. But I’ve been way better mentally, in a way better headspace. Sometimes I’ll get down and I’ll think about it. And that’s when I’ll just use those techniques and methods that she taught me to work through it and continue to keep pushing.”
His UGA starting streak ended after McClendon sustained an MCL injury to his left knee in the SEC Championship game, costing him the ensuing Peach Bowl. McClendon has been careful as he works to rebuild strength in his knee. He was limited during the pre-draft process, though he participated in the Senior Bowl and did position drills at Georgia’s Pro Day.
McClendon opened Rams training camp on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list but was activated July 31.
“Just being cautious,” McClendon said. “They’re trying to get strength back into my knee and get it back fully strong and healthy. It’s been coming along really well thanks to the athletic staff here. I’ve been working with them a lot, and they’ve helped me so much getting this leg back right.”
McClendon entered during the second quarter of Saturday’s exhibition and played 84% of the snaps. He arrived with Bennett, the man he protected during those two illustrious seasons in Athens. Their first drive produced a touchdown, which McClendon said was the highlight of his first NFL experience.
The Rams drafted Bennett in the fourth round (No. 128). They selected McClendon a round later (No. 174).
“(Bennett) got drafted, and I texted him congratulations, and then I want to say about an hour later, he was doing the same thing to me,” McClendon said. “And then we had a phone call it like, ‘We’re going to L.A.’ It was just cool because we went through it. He was at Georgia before, left, went JUCO and came back. And we both came in 2019. January 2019, we both came in together. So we’ve just been at Georgia really our whole careers together. Now to come to the next level and still be on the same teams is cool.
“Because of the accomplishments that we’ve had in that building (SoFi Stadium), just to come here at the next level, and then first game, especially that touchdown, it was great. I’m proud of him, but we have a lot more work to do.”
Like Bennett, McClendon didn’t expect to be a Ram because they hadn’t communicated with him during the pre-draft process. It was the other Los Angeles team that had showed more interest.
“If you’d asked me before the draft if I was coming to L.A., I would have thought it’d been the Chargers,” McClendon said. “I had a couple meetings with them. When I got the call on draft day, I saw the L.A., you know it pops up on there. Just a random number that said Los Angeles. And I was like, ‘Oh, this must be the Chargers.’ I answered, and it was the Rams.”
The Rams list McClendon at right tackle – he was third string on the initial depth chart – but they’ve worked him at both tackle spots. McClendon’s versatility has always been a selling point, though some evaluators felt he’d be a guard long term given he lacks ideal size and length for a tackle.
A counterpoint: McClendon had immense success over a lengthy period at right tackle in the toughest conference.
“It’s been going good, kind of the same thing that I was doing at Georgia where I’m playing left and right tackle,” he said. “There’s no real preference, to be honest. Really, just knowing beforehand what I’m going in at so I can think about those plays. Because going at right tackle and then they switch you to the left, everything kind of flips. So yeah, just being able to know beforehand so I can just play it out in my head.”
McClendon likely won’t play much early, but perhaps he can earn a further look as the season progresses. The Rams are a young team that will be trying to develop talent more than in recent years when the team was a Super Bowl contender and loaded with veterans.
The Rams have four Georgia products on their roster in McClendon, Bennett, starting quarterback Matthew Stafford and cornerback Derion Kendrick. The team waived safety Richard LeCounte earlier this week, and former running back Sony Michel retired two weeks ago.