The mandatory phase of the New England Patriots’ offseason workouts is over – at least until training camp starts in late July – and we have re-entered the quieter parts of the NFL calendar.
However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop. After all, by late August, each team has to start making its roster cuts. Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we’ll continue the series with linebacker Shea McClellin.
Name: Shea McClellin
Jersey number: 58
Size: 6’3, 250 lbs.
2015 review: After staring his professional career as a defensive end, Shea McClellin, the 19th overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft, changed positions in 2014 and again in 2015. First, the Chicago Bears moved him to Sam/strongside linebacker – where his play improved compared to his rather pedestrian first two seasons in the NFL.
Then, last year and under a new coaching staff headed by John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, McClellin moved to Mike/inside linebacker. He showed potential there and finished the season with a career-high 81 tackles while working as the defense’s primary signal caller.
Overall, McClellin appeared in 12 games last season and played the fifth most snaps of all Bears defenders (65.3%; 673 of 1,030). Not only did he register the second-most tackles on the team (two of which for loss), McClellin also added two passes defended and forced and recovered one fumble each.
But while his numbers are solid considering his new position, not all was good. McClellin, as has been the case his entire career, struggled to shed blocks and had a hard time in pass defense. Furthermore, he once again was unable to play a full 16-game season. Consequently, the Bears did neither pick up his fifth-year rookie contract option nor resign him when he hit free agency.
2016 preview: The Patriots signed McClellin to a three-year, $9.05 million contract in March and the structure of his deal – guaranteed salary, signing bonus proration – makes him a roster lock in 2016. Therefore, the major question entering the 2016 season is how his role within New England’s defense will look like.
While he showed the most potential in Chicago playing off the line of scrimmage in 2014 and 2015, the Patriots used McClellin on the defensive line during OTAs and minicamp. He basically took over the role of edge defender Rob Ninkovich, who saw the majority of his spring snaps at linebacker.
Does this mean that New England’s coaching staff will use McClellin exclusively on the boundary and Ninkovich at linebacker in 2016? No, as both players have the versatility and experience to play more than just one position. What seems more likely is that McClellin and Ninkovich as well as Jabaal Sheard will all be part of a rotation on the defensive edge, both on and off the line of scrimmage.
Consequently, the 26-year old might see a lot of valuable snaps in his first season with the Patriots as his versatility makes him an intriguing depth option at defensive end and both linebacker spots.
The Patriots clearly see something in Shea McClellin – otherwise, the team would not have signed him to a three-year contract. Be it his versatility, instincts or athletic potential, Bill Belichick and New England’s coaching staff will be patient to build upon the talent he has shown in flashes while with the Bears.
If McClellin can get to the next level in New England and live up to the potential that made him a first round draft pick, the Patriots’ might have found one of the best free agency signings of this year’s offseason.