Shea McClellin arrived in Foxborough last offseason to far less fanfare than he’d had for his welcome in Chicago four years earlier. McClellin signed a three-year, $8.95 million contract in March and quietly began offseason work with his new teammates. There were no photo ops or introductory news conferences — none of the window dressing that comes with being the No. 19 overall draft pick.
None of the expectations that do, either.
You’ve heard versions of this story before. The Patriots signed McClellin hoping to salvage the 27-year-old’s career as a pass rusher that was seen as disappointing in Chicago. One man’s trash is Bill Belichick’s treasure.
“I think I felt like this would be the best place for me just to do well, I guess,” McClellin said Wednesday. “I came in with no expectations, really, I just came in and tried to do the best I could, at whatever they wanted me to do from Day One.”
That strategy has served him predictably well. In the latter half of the season, McClellin settled into a primary role beside Dont’a Hightower at linebacker. Of McClellin’s 39 combined tackles in the regular season, 29 came in Week 11 or later, as did his single sack.
McClellin played sparingly in the divisional round against the Texans but has gotten more work in the past two months than add fellow linebackers end Kyle Van Noy or Elandon Roberts.
McClellin, 6 feet 3 inches and 260 pounds, is the type of hybrid linebacker/defensive lineman the Patriots love. He is plenty nimble to handle coverage responsibilities but feels most comfortable when he’s able to rush the passer from on or off the line.
After a stellar college career at Boise State, McClellin was drafted as a defensive end by the Bears, who were dreaming of a counterpart to play opposite Julius Peppers.
McClellin was expected to contribute right away, though he wasn’t ready or comfortable as a defensive end in Chicago’s scheme. He made only seven solo tackles in his first year. Doubt crept in.
“I think any time you come in as a first-round pick there’s definitely pressure, so I think if you don’t do well it can disable you mentally, so I think that was part of it,” McClellin said. “I definitely got in my head a lot.”
McClellin improved over his add next end three years in Chicago, particularly after moving to inside linebacker under coordinator Vic Fangio, his third defensive coordinator in four years. He recorded a career-high 53 tackles in 2015, his final year in Chicago.
McClellin has no hard feelings about his tenure with the Bears. They tried him in multiple spots and wanted things to work out as much as he did.
“I’d say I got my fair shake,” McClellin said.
Still, McClellin was looking for a fresh start. He also met with the Jets and Seahawks before signing with the Patriots, but Belichick’s reputation for getting the most out of his players was too good to pass up. McClellin had heard the stories of, among others, Mark Anderson, Mike Vrabel, Akeem Ayers, and Rob Ninkovich, too.
“I think these coaches just put players in positions that they’re the best at,” said McClellin. “They’re not going to put players in any positions that they’re not good at, so I think that’s the main difference. They put you in positions that you do well in. They don’t care when you were drafted or how you did in other places. They just care about what you’re doing now.”
How do you slow down Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has been a constant refrain inside Gillette Stadium for the past week. Any answer is easier said than done, but since defensive tackle Malcom Brown should be largely responsible for defending Bell on Sunday, let’s let him take one last whack at it:
“Usually you just try to hit the gap and try to come off the block and get on it more, but with him playing, you’ve got to try to wait in there and try to see where he’s going to go,” Brown said. “And then you’ve also got to play the cutback, but you’ve also got to play everything else and he’s just, I mean, he’s just real patient. I don’t know how else to put it.”
Sound complicated? Brown and the Patriots have been studying all week. On Friday, though, Brown said he had the game plan down pat.
“If you can’t relax at this point you shouldn’t be playing on Sunday because at this point you should have all the information that you need to play a complete game,” Brown said. “So if you’re not prepared at this point, I don’t know what to say, you didn’t take the week as you were supposed to take it.”
Got it covered
President Donald Trump name-dropped Tom Brady yet again Saturday during a speech he gave at CIA headquarters.
Trump was criticizing a reporter for Time magazine when he mentioned having been on the magazine’s cover more often than Brady.
“I have been on their cover like 14 or 15 times,” Trump said. “I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine. Like, if Tom Brady’s on the cover, it’s one time because he won the Super Bowl or something, right? I’ve been on 15 times this year.”
Trump was Time’s Person of the Year for 2016. Brady has not been on the cover of Time, though he has graced many other magazine covers.
Nora Princiotti can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @NoraPrinciotti.