New England Patriots LB Shea McClellin does whatever he’s asked. Need a stand-up linebacker? He’s on it. Need a pass rusher? He’ll step up. Need a special teams ace? McClellin will be there and he’ll deliver.
After overcoming some early season injuries (shoulder, concussion), McClellin has settled into a rotational role in the Patriots defense. He plays more against offenses that run the ball a lot and played more than any other linebacker in the AFC Championship Game. McClellin trails only defensive captain LB Dont’a Hightower for snaps at the linebacker position this year, including the playoffs, and ranks 8th on the team in special teams snaps, just behind ST captain Matthew Slater.
“I'm just going to do whatever they ask me to do when it comes down to it,” McClellin said on Monday night. “We'll see how it goes this Sunday, but I'm going to do the same thing I've been doing and do whatever they asked me to do."
After suffering a wave of coaching and position changes with the Chicago Bears, McClellin was drawn to the Patriots because head coach Bill Belichick is known for “putting players in positions that they can succeed.” McClellin believes his time with the Bears was a positive experience because it exposed Belichick to a full picture of of his potential.
“I think the Patriots were able to see what I was good at, what I'm not so good at, and they were able put me in a position where I could succeed in,” McClellin said.
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has a great appreciation for the depth and versatility that McClellin brings to the table.
“He’s really one of those guys that can go in a couple of different spots,” Patricia said. “We only have so many guys that are active during the game, so, for us, you have to be prepared if you go down with an injury or you have to rotate. Those guys do a great job of understanding a couple different pieces of what we do just in case we need them. He does a lot for us in that aspect.”
The Patriots have been rotating their linebackers as of late, LB Dont’a Hightower included, in order to give experience to rookie LB Elandon Roberts and to make recent acquisition LB Kyle Van Noy more comfortable in the system. Roberts, Van Noy, and McClellin are all under contract for 2017, too, which could be an added variable in the snap distribution.
If McClellin is to increase his role in the future, he has a great mentor already in house. EDGE Rob Ninkovich is a perfect model for how McClellin can grow with the Patriots.
The Patriots added a then-25-year-old Ninkovich in 2009. He was a former long snapper and pure special teams player that didn’t start on defense until 2010. He’s started almost every game for the Patriots since joining the starting lineup.
McClellin is 27 years old and he’s seen his role expand in recent weeks, while still contributing on special teams. His ability to defend the edge, while also cover in the middle makes him a valuable piece in the New England defense.
"I think Rob and I, we're kind of similar,” McClellin said. :Obviously he's played a lot more than me and has more experience in this defense, but the way we play and the versatility, I think we're similar in that aspect of it."
McClellin also acknowledged that he’s leaned on Ninkovich for help while adjusting to the Patriots this season. Ninkovich was considered the heir to Mike Vrabel, who joined the Patriots as a 26 year old and served as a versatile do-it-all linebacker, and Ninkovich could pass the baton down to McClellin in the coming years.
Whenever that time comes, McClellin will be ready to play whatever role is asked of him.