FOXBOROUGH — Shea McClellin may be best known for leap-frogging over the offensive line to block field goals. McClellin blocked Justin Tucker’s attempt in Week 14 last year to ruin the Baltimore kicker’s chances for a perfect season.
Then in the Super Bowl, with the Patriots trailing the Falcons, 13-0, McClellin soared over the line again to block Matt Bryant’s extra point attempt, but was penalized.
The NFL outlawed McClellin’s signature play in the offseason to promote player safety.
“Yeah, take away my specialty,” McClellin said Tuesday with a smile. “I’ve just got to find something else to do now.”
Perhaps at the top of his to-do list is replacing 11-year veteran Rob Ninkovich, who announced his retirement Sunday afternoon.
McClellin said he watched film of Ninkovich before arriving in New England, both at Boise State and in his first four NFL seasons with the Bears. The 28-year-old feels privileged to have learned from Ninkovich in his final season, and McClellin’s first with the Patriots, in 2016.
“He is a guy I looked up to before I even got here,” McClellin said. “I can’t thank him enough for what he has done for me.”
Ninkovich left the Patriots with multiple voids to fill, from his pass-rushing ability to his leadership in the locker room. McClellin, who played 34.5 percent of the defensive snaps last season, now will be relied upon to pressure opposing backfields.
He has lined up on the edge in 11-on-11 situations and worked with the pass rushers in individual drills for the last two practices. Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Harvey Langi joined McClellin in those drills.
Bill Belichick deployed McClellin both on and off the line of scrimmage last season, largely in passing situations, and he became more involved in the game plan when Jamie Collins was traded to the Browns Oct. 31.
McClellin periodically flashed his athleticism, from his acrobatic field goal blocks to a 69-yard fumble recovery, the longest in Patriots history, against the Dolphins in Week 17.
It’s unclear how Belichick will incorporate former Jets middle linebacker David Harris into the scheme. But with Ninkovich’s departure, Dont’a Hightower’s injury woes, and an infusion of young linebackers and linemen, McClellin will acquire a more prominent role in 2017.
Belichick likes what he has seen so far.
“He’s smart, he’s athletic, he runs well, he’s got good size, he’s got experience, so he’s really a very valuable and versatile guy for us,” Belichick said. “He can do a lot of different things.”
McClellin has made some impressive plays already in camp, including one in which he hit an oncoming running back before dropping back to intercept Tom Brady.
McClellin said he is trying to show the coaching staff his dependability and consistency. He also he wants to nurture the young linebackers, much like Ninkovich did throughout his time with the Patriots.
After Tuesday morning’s practice, the longest and hottest of camp, McClellin found some time to decompress. As players sauntered to the locker room, he sat on the field for more than 15 minutes with his wife, Sam, and two children.
McClellin’s family watches him practice every day during camp. Perhaps Tuesday’s post-practice hangout was prolonged for McClellin’s 28th birthday, which was Tuesday.
“It’s one of the best parts of the day, just to see them at the end of practice,” McClellin said. “Family is the most important thing to me.”
One more time
Former long snapper Lonie Paxton was back in town to sign a one-day contract so he could retire as a Patriot.
Perhaps best remembered for his snow angels after the win over the Raiders in the AFC divisional round in the 2001 playoffs and his confetti version after Super Bowl XXXVI, Paxton played for the Patriots from 2000-08.
He won three Super Bowls with New England before signing a five-year, $5.3 million deal with the Broncos.
Paxton said he still gets asked about the snow angels and never tires of talking about the final play in old Foxboro Stadium.
“Just a California kid and not having any snow in my life, really, and then having my hands on the ball in that moment and the final play of the game — a big game where the swing was so crazy with the Tuck Rule to the kick to get us to overtime to the kick in overtime . . . It is kind of a surreal moment to look back on,’’ said Paxton, who received a big hug from Belichick after the coach’s morning news briefing.
Time well spent
Belichick was asked how he and his staff used Monday’s offday for the players, and the coach got specific — and then humorous.
“Go back and look at the first week of camp and talk about all those things — the operation, what we got done, if there was anything we were behind in or maybe even a little bit ahead on, kind of how it’s going — and then talk about the plans for the next five days, big picture, and more specifically, today’s practice and the immediate challenges,’’ he said.
After adding that they’d also talk about different groupings and how they might use players at different spots in sub packages, the coach paused and said, “I mean, that was after 18 [holes], a couple hands of gin, and a little time on the beach.’’