By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

Editor’s note: The verdict is in. Apparently “Bad Joke” is the winner. The Patriots released Crable the day before training camp. Mike Reiss speculates that Crable may have failed his conditioning test and this was the final straw as far as they were concerned. You may now disregard everything written below.

Shawn Crable

Mention the name Shawn Crable these days, and you’re likely to get an eye roll, a sarcastic remark, or a blank stare. The Patriots linebacker is entering his third season with the Patriots, but has yet to take the field for a regular season game. He has been on the Injured Reserve list each of his first two seasons. Crable was inactive for the first eight games of 2008 before being placed on IR when the Patriots, needed help at linebacker, re-signed veterans Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin. Last season, Crable was placed on IR just prior to the regular season, on September 5th. Given this history, skepticism about Crable and his ability to ever become a contributor is certainly warranted. But is it fair to completely write the guy off? Sure, the last two years could just be bad luck, a fluke.  After a shoulder injured derailed his freshman season, Crable didn’t show himself to be injury-prone while at Michigan. If you read the scouting reports on him prior to the 2008 draft, you get the impression of a guy with a ton of upside, and a unique ability to rush the passer and create havoc in the backfield. He was also a defensive captain his senior year with the Wolverines, which fits in with the solid citizen approach the Patriots are taking to building their locker room and team. This draft profile from compares Crable to Carl Banks and Shawn Phillips. Note the first paragraph:

An emerging talent at the strong-side linebacker position, Crable reminds some scouts of Carl Banks, an All-American at that position for the Wolverines’ arch-rivals, Michigan State, who went on to earn All-Pro honors during a stellar career with the New York Giants. The talented youngster has the same excellent read-and-react skills and playing strength, doing a great job of attacking the backfield coming off the edge that Banks showed throughout his college and professional career.

And then later on in the article:

Compares To: SHAUN PHILLIPS-San Diego … Crable is not as bulky as Phillips, but his frame has the potential to carry 260 pounds. He is a very good edge rusher and blitzer who relies a lot on his quickness to surprise a lethargic blocker. He lacks the sand in his pants to generate a good anchor and must do a better job of using his hands to protect his body from combo blocks and cut blocks. He is quick to see the play develop, but it is rare for him to come out of his area to make a play. He is too stiff in his hips to get good depth in his pass drops and struggles with ball recognition when playing in the zone, as he does bite on play-action. He will need to improve his lower body strength for the next level, as his only value right now is as a pass rusher.

Recent reports indicate that Crable has bulked up some in the two years since coming out of college. He’d better have, he hasn’t needed to recover from the grueling grind of playing NFL games. Hopefully that added weight can address some the concerns laid out in the draft profile (not enough “sand in the pants” was listed as a concern). In the 2008 preseason I have some vague memories of Crable looking rather impressive against the reserve NFL talent he was competing against when he was on the field. Everywhere you turn, experts analyzing the Patriots point first to the team’s lack of a pass rush as THE biggest weakness on the team, and the main reason why they will not be a Super Bowl contender in 2010. They say that the Patriots have done very little (drafting Jermaine Cunningham, re-signing Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess) to address this need. If the Patriots are counting on Crable to play a huge role and fill this pass rush need, that’s obviously a huge risk. I don’t think they’re counting on him to solve their needs, but I think they do expect him to be a contributor this season and part of the solution to the pass rush. If he’s injured again, or can’t perform, it’s time to cut bait. Fellow linebacker Tully Banta-Cain had the following to say about Crable recently: “He’s got all the tools. He’s got the size. He looks the part. Even when he’s healthy, he plays the part. As long as he can stay healthy, he’s going to be a great impact for us.” I’ll settle for any impact at this point, let alone great impact. It’s a huge “as long as,” but Crable clearly fits a lot of what the Patriots look for in a pass-rushing outside linebacker. They haven’t given up on him yet, and I don’t think I’m quite ready to, either. I’m hoping that when we look back at the 2010 season, we can list Shawn Crable as one of the pleasant surprises of this season. Update: Mike Reiss has a look at players who didn’t do much in their first two years, but emerged in their third: When the third time is the charm