Bears

Shea McClellin getting best opportunity with new Bears staff

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Shea McClellin getting best opportunity with new Bears staff

One member of the Bears’ former coaching staff described linebacker Shea McClellin as “just sufficient,” a barely adequate NFL player but nothing special. Lovie Smith once refused a directive to move McClellin to middle linebacker.

The incoming Bears staff already has a considerably higher early opinion of the 19th overall pick of the 2012 draft.

“I think he’s got a chance to be a good inside linebacker,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who knows something about “good inside linebackers” from his years with the likes of NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and others. “We’re going to give him a full opportunity and full chance to learn the position so we can evaluate him and see if that’s a good spot for him.”

[MORE: Kevin White faces stiff rookie expectations from Bears, NFL]

Coach John Fox earlier said that McClellin would be going to inside linebacker, and McClellin has been slotted as one of the starting inside linebackers, alongside free agent signee Mason Foster, in the early offseason going. Whether McClellin holds onto the position when Lamarr Houston and Jonathan Bostic return from injuries is a position competition worth watching through the offseason.

“He’s got good size, he’s got good athletic ability, I think,” Fangio said. “He has been hindered, I think, by being moved around. To no fault of anybody’s, just the way it goes.”

Coincidence or pure chance perhaps, but Fangio named McClellin and linebacker Christian Jones right after mentioning cornerback Kyle Fuller as a individuals he could build upon. Obviously the likes of Pernell McPhee, Antrel Rolle and a couple of others are far higher in the “building block” hierarchy but the implication was that McClellin has made a better early impression, on film and on the field, with this staff than he had with his previous one.

When the Bears finally gave up trying to force-fit McClellin into a defensive end position, moving him to linebacker last offseason was viewed as a much-needed do-over. And it was, to an extent. McClellin was credited with 84 tackles by Bears performance accounting, good enough for fourth on the Bears.

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But McClellin’s total of 32 solo tackles tied for ninth, and while former GM Phil Emery consistently posited that McClellin had a much greater rate of creating disruptions and impact, it was not apparent to most observers and analysts.

The team in fact elected not to exercise the fifth-year option on McClellin’s rookie contract, meaning he comes out of contract after the current season.

Now it appears that McClellin is getting perhaps his best chance at NFL success, fittingly perhaps in the very scheme – 3-4 – that most evaluators considered best for him prior to his being drafted in 2012. As a double irony, his chance is coming, not under the GM that drafted him and had a vested interest in his success, but rather an entirely new coaching and front office.

“You know, when he came out of college he was a versatile guy, he played a lot of different positions and maybe now it’s time to lock him down into hopefully an inside linebacker spot,” Fangio said. “But if it doesn’t work out, maybe we move him back out, but I want to see him at inside linebacker for awhile… .

“I think he’s got good instincts. He’s got some size, he can run, I think he can be a good blitzer from in there. So just a little bit of everything.”

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

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USA TODAY

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

Bill Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Matt Nagy and the 2018 Bears during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. Some of the highlights:

 

On the Bears’ season as a whole:

 

“The Bears have lost two games, one on a game when they were in control of the game and another one they lost in overtime. This really looks like a 5-0 team to me, if you change one or two plays. You can say that about a lot of teams, but that’s the league we’re in.”

 

On Mitch Trubisky:

 

“I think he’s done a good job of getting ball to the players that are open or in space and letting them be playmakers. He has a lot of them. That’s the quarterback’s job is to deliver the ball to the playmakers and let them go. I think he’s done a good job of that. He’s a tough kid, which I respect. That’s what we would ask our quarterbacks to do, to make plays to help our team win, to get the ball to the players that are open and in space. It’s not about stats. It’s about doing what you need to do to win.”

 

On Tarik Cohen’s usage:

 

“He plays about a little bit less than 50 percent of the time and he’s in a lot of different places, he’s hard to find. He’s a dynamic player that can run, catch, really threaten every yard of the field from sideline to sideline, up the middle, deep. You can throw it to him, you can hand it to him and he’s elusive with the ball and he’s elusive to be able to get open so the quarterback can get him the ball. Those are great skills to have. Any one of those is good and he’s got several of them.

 

“He’s very hard to tackle. But they do a great job mixing him, not just putting him in the game but who he’s in the game with, what the combinations are and then where they locate him and so forth. There are a lot of multiples. It’s hard. Coach Nagy does a good job with that and he’s a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.”

 

On Trubisky’s 54-yard bomb to Taylor Gabriel on Sunday:

 

“That’s about as good a throw and catch as I’ve seen all year. The execution on that was like 99 out of 100. It was a great, great throw, great route, great catch. There was like a few inches to get the ball in there 50 yards downfield and that’s where it was.”

 

On Akiem Hicks’ impact, who played for the Patriots in 2015:

 

“He’s hard to block. It doesn’t make any difference what the play is, you can run to him and he’s hard to block. You can run away from him, and he makes tackles for loss on the back side. He’s quick and can get around those blocks when there’s more space back there because everybody is going to the front side. He can power rush. He can rush the edges with his quickness. He’s a very, very disruptive player. He’s hard to block on everything.

 

“I appreciate all of the plays he makes. He makes plays on all three downs, against all types of plays, whether it’s reading screen passes or power rushing the pocket to help the ends, to help (Leonard) Floyd and Mack and (Aaron) Lynch rush on the edge. He’s a powerful, disruptive guy. (Eddie) Goldman has done a good job of that. (Bilal) Nichols has done a good job of that too. They have some really powerful guys inside that are hard to block, and they change the line of scrimmage in the running game and the passing game. It really creates a problem, frees up the linebackers in the running game and helps the ends because the quarterback can’t step up in the pocket in the passing game.”

 

On Matt Nagy:

 

“Obviously he's done a great job, as has Ryan with building the team. They have a lot of good players. They have a really experienced staff and they do a great job in all three areas of the game. They're good in the kicking game, they're good on defense they're good on offense. They have highly-skilled players in all three areas.

 

“It's a well-balanced football team that does a lot of things well. Run the ball. Stop the run. Throw the ball. Rush the passer. Intercept passes. Return kicks. Cover kicks. Cover punts. They're at the top of the league in all those categories. Turnovers. Points off turnovers. It doesn't really matter what area you want to talk about, they're pretty good at all of them. That's why they're a good football team.

 

“Coach Nagy and his staff certainly deserve a lot of credit. It's not a one-man band. They're all doing a good job. It's a good football team. I'm sure there will be a lot of energy in the stadium this week. It will be a great test for us to go into Chicago and be competitive against them.”

 

While listening to Belichick rave about the Bears, this missive from former Patriots general manager Michael Lombardi stands out:

 

“Whenever Belichick tells the media on Mondays or Tuesdays that he has already moved on to the next game, trust me, he’s not lying. I worked with Bill for five years in Cleveland, and then during the 2014 and 2015 seasons in New England. Belichick treats every game like a Super Bowl; no detail is too small, no possible scenario or situation goes overlooked. I have heard Belichick break down a bumbling Jaguars team as if it was the reigning two-time Super Bowl winner and treat Blake Bortles like he’s the second coming of Aaron Rodgers. Belichick does it with tape to back up his claims, only showing his team the opponent’s greatest strengths. (With Bortles, I swear, he must have used George Lucas to doctor the video.) No Patriots opponent is underestimated or taken lightly — EVER.”

 

One of the myriad things that make Belichick the best coach in the NFL — and maybe the best coach in NFL history — is how he never takes an opponent lightly, and then how he’s so successful at scheming against what an opponent does best.

 

The Bears are undoubtedly better in 2018 than they were in the John Fox era, or when these two teams last met in 2014 (when New England waxed a moribund Marc Trestman side, 51-23). And a lot of Belichick’s points are valid – that throw Trubisky made to Gabriel was outstanding, for example.

 

But Belichick talks this way about every team he faces. And that, again, is part of what makes him the best at what he does.

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

On this week's Under Center podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Bill Belichick and New England will attack Matt Nagy and the Bears on Sunday, and if Mitch Trubisky can get to the point where he can reliably lead a late-game scoring drive like Tom Brady is so good at doing.

You can listen to the whole thing here, or in the embedded player below: