When the Chicago Bears drafted Shea McClellin with their first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the team was certain they could move him to defensive end and he could flourish as an outside speed rusher. After two seasons, though, McClellin has only been able to rack up 6.5 sacks. General Manager Phil Emery was facing a harsh truth that his first draft selection as the Bears GM was floundering, and during the NFL combine in March, Emery announced that McClellin would make the move to outside linebacker in 2014.
The move to linebacker became necessary after the Bears brought in DE’s Jared Allen, Willie Young, and Lamarr Houston via free agency. With plenty of depth at DE, McClellin was facing an uphill battle for playing time and Emery was not about to let a former first round selection ride the bench. Luckily for McClellin he was a very capable linebacker while in college at Boise State and the Bears were in need of help at the LB spot this season.
Though it hasn’t been made clear yet what capacity McClellin will be used at linebacker, there are two scenarios that make the most sense. McClellin will either be backing up D.J. Williams as the middle linebacker, or the more likely option, that he would compete with Jon Bostic for the starting strong side linebacker position. By lining up as the Sam, McClellin would have more opportunities to rush the QB, something that the Bears still believe he can do exceptionally well. The theory here is that by having McClellin standing up he can get a better jump off the snap and use his speed and athleticism to pressure the QB without having to match up against offensive tackles every play.
As the team begins OTAs, McClellin has been taking reps as both Sam and Mike linebacker. All signs are pointing towards him lining up at Sam when the season starts, though it is helpful for him to also learn to play in the middle in the event that Williams is injured this year. The Bears learned first hand last season that Bostic was not prepared to take over as the middle linebacker and it would serve them well to have another option to stick there behind Williams.
No matter which position the Bears decide to place McClellin at, he will need to prove that he has above average coverage skills if he hopes to be a starter in 2014. After two seasons with his hand in the dirt, this may prove to be tricky for McClellin to grasp quickly, though he has proven to be a gifted athlete and shouldn’t take too long to recall his college years.
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