When the New England Patriots signed free agent Shea McClellin to a 3-year deal, my immediate thought was Great, now the Patriots have a good third linebacker behind Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower.
Perhaps the team views him as much, much more.
McClellin was drafted as an edge defender out of college, where he was expected to fit at defensive end in the 4-3 and at outside linebacker in the 3-4. He played both roles in Chicago, before ultimately playing middle linebacker in his final season. That final season led me to project his role as a stand-up linebacker with the Patriots.
According to ESPN's Mike Reiss, the Patriots used McClellin as an edge defender in the open practice last week. While Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich were the first team unit, McClellin and fellow free agent signing Chris Long made up the second team.
This makes for an interesting development. McClellin makes plenty of sense as the long-term heir to Ninkovich. He offers similar versatility to Ninkovich, who is asked at times to drop back into coverage. Head coach Bill Belichick is likely to view McClellin's time all over the Chicago defense as a possible benefit because McClellin is capable of being more than just a defensive end.
Another reason I thought McClellin would be a linebacker is that both Collins and Hightower are free agents after this season; McClellin would serve as a nice hedge in case either were to sign with another team. But the fact that Ninkovich, Sheard, and Long are all free agents can't over overlooked, either. McClellin serves as a possible back-up for all of these players, in an Akeem Ayers-like capacity.
We'll see if the Patriots actually view McClellin as an edge defender as camp moves forward. Regardless, Reiss' factoid about McClellin's utilization makes his signing and future with the team all-the-more interesting.