Preps Talk

A 'dilemma' for Bears coaches: How to get McClellin on the field

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A 'dilemma' for Bears coaches: How to get McClellin on the field

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. First, a disclaimer: This is not a suggestion that Shea McClellin belongs at linebacker. CSNChicago.com is not in the business of advocating personnel decisions. But:

What if rookie defensive end Shea McClellin were only the Bears fourth-best defensive end but one of their best 11 defensive players? Corey Wootton, who had a strong game Thursday against Denver All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady, is far and away the best end after Israel Idonije and Julius Peppers. Wootton could be playing his way into the discussion for starting, but that's for another time.

McClellin isnt Best-11 right now, although few players warranted more watching on Thursday than McClellin. Several experts have said he will be at his best when he is in game action that demands instinctive reactions to developing situations.

That was indeed the case. McClellin had a sack, two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss and was involved. He was road kill on a couple of running plays, but so were more than a few of his teammates in a game that saw the Denver Broncos pile up 158 rushing yards.

McClellins progress has been significant almost daily, despite his being assigned a huge dose of work deep into practice with backup units that have him visibly gassed. One thing the staff has not done is coddle the No. 1.

He is definitely not yet a top-11, however. Still, what if...

If he were an offensive lineman, he would be starting. Mike Tice as line coach and now coordinator has long espoused that the five best in that group will start. That principle cant automatically be applied to a larger group like an entire defense.

But that principle in its loose form does apply; the best 11 at getting to and attacking anyone with a football on any given play usually do ultimately find their ways onto the field.

McClellin was not repeat, not drafted to be a linebacker. He was, however, drafted to be a pass rusher. How he does it, or from where, is a franchise-grade story to watch.

The Urlacher Case

Coaches once made an acknowledged mistake with another elite football player when they put a rookie Brian Urlacher at strong-side linebacker in 2000. The thinking was that Sam was a way to get Urlacher on the field, at a spot where assignments were ostensibly simpler than in the middle, 54s eventual spot.

That didnt work because Urlacher, an instinctive player with extraordinary speed for his size (260 pounds), was getting locked up with tight ends at points of attack. That wasnt the case when he was an All-American safety at New Mexico. He was the point of attack, or at least got there before the ball carrier.

The mistake was forcing a player with a certain mix of mental and physical skills into a position that did not fit the skill set. Coaches in fact had underestimated Urlacher (and Roosevelt Colvin, whose job had been handed to Urlacher on draft day) and what he was capable of.

Coaches are giving McClellin a seemingly simple mission statement: Beat the tackle or tight end right in front of him. Unlike Urlacher, McClellin has played on the line of scrimmage extensively in college and he did it well, with seven sacks last year at Boise State.

Instead of over-estimating what McClellin can do with his hand on the ground, though, is he being under-estimated in the bigger picture?

An objective with the three-point stance is to shrink the target area for McClellin, so he is not peeking into backfields or being swarmed by blockers and deceptions that are part of NFL offenses.

But what if he is at his best, like Urlacher, when all about him is chaos?

The Miller Case

The Denver Broncos and coach John Fox are practitioners of the 4-3. Von Miller, the No. 2-overall pick in last years draft, was defensive rookie of the year after collecting 11.5 sacks. He operates largely out of a strong-side linebacker slot in a 4-3 scheme at 237 pounds.

Thats too light for a true Sam linebacker, except that Miller doesnt play that position like a classic 4-3 Sam backer. He rushes the passer. Against the Bears last year: a sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, five tackles. On the other side, Elvis Dumervil (a defensive end at 5-11, 260) also had a sack, five tackles, and a tackle for loss and three QB hits.

McClellin isnt Miller, any more than he is Clay Matthews, another edge bullet for Green Bay. He isnt Dumervil, either. But if he plays his way into being one of the best 11 defensive players, Bears coaches will have a good problem on their hands.

Playoff drama highlights a busy week on High School Lites

Playoff drama highlights a busy week on High School Lites

High School Lites had a busy show as it was the final week of the regular season for IHSA boys basketball Class 3A and 4A. The Class 1A and 2A playoffs also tipped in boys basketball as the show has some thrilling regional titles that were decided in the final minute. And finally, the girls basketball Class 1A and 2A state semifinals were played on Friday as the state's top teams played in Bloomington.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Richards wrestler Mia Palumbo

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Simeon boys basketball

Highlights

Marshall shocks Leo in Class 2A regional final

Aurora Christian runs past Harvert Christian for 1A regional title

Buzzer-beater lifts Monticello over Gibson City for regional title

Jacobs goes unbeaten in Fox Valley with win over Dundee-Crown

West Aurora gets by rival East Aurora

Yorkville completes season sweep of DeKalb

Lemont escapes past T.F. North

Marshall needs OT to get past Teutopolis in girls 2A semifinals

Harlan takes down Eureka in 2A semifinals

Stockton runs by Okaw Valley in 1A

Schlarman races by Lebanon

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.