Jon Beason is inching toward a return to the field and, by all accounts, is on track to play in the regular-season opener on Sept. 8. But each day he gets closer to returning means one fewer day that Jameel McClain will be the Giants' middle linebacker.

The free-agent acquisition slid into the driver's seat of the defense when Beason was sidelined with a foot injury in the spring and has been the on-field leader of the unit throughout the preseason. He's brought a spark and a sense of fun to the huddle and has performed pretty well, too.

"He's a veteran linebacker who knows how to play the game and he's been solid," Tom Coughlin said of McClain.

It's understood, though, that McClain is just keeping the spot warm for its rightful owner. When Beason comes off PUP, McClain most likely will be moved back to an outside linebacker position. It will go back to being Beason's defense.

Won't he miss running the show?

"I enjoy being out there with the team," McClain told Newsday on Wednesday. "I'm not going to miss anything . . . Linebacker is linebacker to me. I don't see it different in any way."

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Some players might not be so willing to give up the reins after such a long ride through the preseason. McClain got a taste of leadership and eventually will be asked to take on a secondary role. But he said it will be easy.

"Ain't no competition," he said. "It's Jon's position. All Jon needs to do is get healthy and he'll come in and be the phenomenal leader that he always is and the amazing football player that he is. My job is to come in and fit on this team and find a place to etch out my own stone."

Playing middle linebacker as a summertime stand-in helped that process. Not only did it allow him to understand the defense "from the ground up" and study all of the positions on the field, it gave the Giants a glimpse of what McClain brings to the field as a player and as a personality.

"I've had a great time being a part of this team and bonding with this team," he said. "With Jon being here or without Jon being here the biggest thing was to show the team who I was and I got the opportunity to show them some of who I am. So that's good."