Hannable: Not getting Shea McClellin back this year will hurt Patriots more than you think

Ryan Hannable
November 07, 2017 - 11:22 pm

Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Although it won’t get the attention of Dont’a Hightower missing the rest of the season, Shea McClellin reportedly being done for the year is a sneaky big deal for the Patriots.

McClellin started the year on injured reserve, but began practicing the first day he was eligible back on Oct. 18. It was expected he would make his debut this Sunday in Denver, but after not being present at practice Tuesday, word came out that he suffered a setback and will not be able to return this season. Once he began practicing, the Patriots had 21 days to activate him to the active roster and that window expires Wednesday.

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reported McClellin started on injured reserve with a concussion and suffered another one during a recent practice.

The news hurts the Patriots in two big ways.

With the new injured reserve rules this year, teams are allowed to bring two players back over the course of the year, but after the McClellin news Tuesday, the Patriots now can only bring one back. Since McClellin began practicing, he counts towards the two the Patriots are permitted. This leaves the Patriots likely deciding between Malcolm Mitchell or Vincent Valentine as their only player to return from injured reserve this year.

More importantly, the Patriots were counting on McClellin returning and almost were treating him as a midseason acquisition. The Patriots were not active around the trade deadline seeking a linebacker partly because McClellin was already practicing and the team was counting on him returning.

The defense now has Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, David Harris and Cassius Marsh as players who will be depended on to help replace Hightower. McClellin had shown the ability to line up as an edge rusher and set the edge, as well as play linebacker and cover opposing running backs out of the backfield.

Going into Week 10, the Patriots defense is ranked last in the NFL when it comes to yards allowed per game with 417, but ranked 16th in points allowed per game at 22.4. There’s certainly room to improve and made even more difficult with the absence of Hightower.

Who will be the player to help set the edge and not allow any big runs to the outside? Who will be the linebacker who can cover running backs out of the backfield?

From this viewpoint, Marsh is the player who will need to step up most when it comes to setting the edge from the defensive end spot, but covering backs out of the backfield remains up for grabs. Van Noy may be the quickest linebacker of the bunch, but he may be best used rushing the passer. The most likely scenario is having players like Jordan Richards and Patrick Chung play more in the box and closer to the line of scrimmage. 

Having a year in the system under his belt, McClellin could have been counted on to help the defense grow in the second half, much like what happened last season when his role was expanded following the trade of Jamie Collins.

So while it won’t get talked about as much as Hightower’s season-ending injury, McClellin not returning this year is a big blow for the Patriots defense.

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