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.”
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.”