Patriots linebackers had perhaps their best game of the season on Sunday against the Jets, and they could be adding another layer of depth to that group very soon.
Shea McClellin is able to begin practicing this week after sitting out the first six weeks of the regular season with an undisclosed injury. He has been on injured reserve since the end of training camp, but each team is allowed to bring back two players off of IR, and McClellin seems like a candidate.
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Players looking to come back from IR are allowed to practice after sitting for six weeks. They can play and thus count toward the active roster, after eight weeks on IR. A rule to allow players to return from IR has been in place since 2012, but this year is the first in which teams have the ability to return two players.
McClellin was spotted in the locker room on Monday and seemed to be in good spirits.
"That’s a possibility," Belichick said Tuesday when asked about McClellin's potential return to the field.
"It’s something that we’ll talk about with the medical people before we start work this week and see where we’re at. If he’s ready, then it’s an option. If he’s not ready, then it’s not an option."
Patriots receiver Malcolm Mitchell has also been on IR since the day of the season-opener, though he has not been spotted in the Patriots locker room recently, and ESPN's Mike Reiss reported over the weekend that Mitchell (knee) isn't close to a return.
Patriots defensive lineman Vincent Valentine is on IR as well and could be a candidate to return, but he was placed on the list two days prior to New England's Week 3 game with Houston so his timeline is different from McClellin's and Mitchell's.
Should McClellin return to practice, it would add an experienced player to a group that includes Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, David Harris and Marquis Flowers. Harvey Langi is typically a part of this group as well, but he was in a car crash over the weekend that resulted in serious injuries to him and his wife.
McClellin played in 17 games last season, including playoffs, and he finished the season with the second-most snaps of any Patriots linebacker. He has the ability to be a versatile piece for Belichick's defense, with experience both off the line and on the edge, and he's been a core special-teamer.
The Patriots will practice for the first time this week on Wednesday afternoon so we'll have an update on McClellin one way or the other at that point.