FOXBORO, Mass. — There were talks this summer that Shea McClellin could take over retired linebacker Rob Ninkovich’s role on the New England Patriots’ defense this season. Then McClellin suffered an undisclosed injury and was placed on injured reserve prior to Week 1, quieting any hype surrounding him.

McClellin was back on the practice field Wednesday afternoon, the earliest he was permitted to return. McClellin can’t be activated to the Patriots’ 53-man roster until after the their Week 8 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, per NFL rules. Since the Patriots have a Week 9 bye, the earliest McClellin can play is in their Week 10 matchup with the Denver Broncos.

The Patriots have a couple of obvious roster moves they could make to open up a spot for McClellin. Linebacker Harvey Langi suffered serious injuries in a car accident Friday and could be placed on the Patriots’ non-football injury list. The Patriots also could choose to release veteran linebacker David Harris, who has been on the field for just seven snaps this season and was inactive in Week 6 against the New York Jets, his former team.

McClellin played in 14 games last season and started just four. He recorded 41 tackles with one sack as he split his time between defense and special teams. McClellin has less competition for a defensive role this season, however.

Ninkovich retired and pass rushers Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard moved on to the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts, respectively, in free agency. Since McClellin has experience at both linebacker and in a pass rushing role, he’ll be competing for snaps with players like Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Cassius Marsh, Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler, all of whom have played either outside linebacker or defensive end for the Patriots this season.

Pass rush and linebacker play have both been weaknesses for the Patriots, and though McClellin was far from a superstar last season, it’s worth seeing if his play could serve as an upgrade over other Patriots defensive contributors.

The Patriots’ defense certainly could use some help. New England ranks 30th in the NFL in points allowed and are dead last in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.

Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images