Shea McClellin is going back to high school and couldn’t be more pleased at this latest step in his NFL career.
McClellin, working under his third different defensive coordinator and position coach and at his third different position in three calendar years, is holding down one of the two inside-linebacker spots in the developing 3-4 defense of coach John Fox and coordinator Vic Fangio.
The organization, not surprisingly, did not pick up the $7.7-million fifth-year option in McClellin’s rookie contract. McClellin understood the decision, which made him one of only a handful of 2012 draftees eligible but whose options were not picked up (one of the others was Bruce Irvin, first on the Bears’ wish list but selected by Seattle at No. 15, four picks ahead of McClellin).
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That seeming no-confidence vote could not matter less to McClellin, who has rediscovered something in football within the move of him to yet another position.
“I like it,” McClellin said. “It’s like high-school days, what I played in high school.
“For me this is the most fun I’ve had in the past couple of years. It was rough. We weren’t doing well as a team and that can get you down. You gotta have fun. It’s hard enough as it is and it’s really hard to play well when you’re not having fun.”
“Fun” at inside linebacker will involve a different skill set than his time at defensive end required: “You’re taking on guards almost all the time. But I did that last year, too, so it’s not going to be that much of a change.”
If there is an oddity about McClellin’s situation it is that the incoming coaching staff has a higher opinion of McClellin than either of the previous two, including the one that drafted him.
Fangio raised some eyebrows when he named McClellin among the players which Fangio envisioned as building blocks for the new defense.
“I think he’s got a chance to be a good inside linebacker,” Fangio said last month. Fangio comes from San Francisco with a reputation for blunt talk, and has seen what good inside linebackers look like after working with NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis in the 49ers’ 3-4 scheme. “We’re going to give [McClellin] 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.”
McClellin was force-fit into defensive end after his drafting in 2012 – former GM Phil Emery acknowledged that mistake, although exactly who pushed McClellin’s hand onto the ground is unclear, and now irrelevant – and the Lovie Smith/Rod Marinelli staff refused to look at McClellin at middle linebacker. The Marc Trestman/Mel Tucker group left McClellin at end initially, tried him at strongside linebacker last season, and considered him barely “sufficient,” according to one former staff member.
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Fox liked McClellin in the 2012 draft but did not have a first-round pick and selected defensive tackle Derek Wolfe with the 36th pick.
“I thought highly of him when he came out of Boise State,” Fox said. “He was more of an outside linebacker in that scheme. But that’s a switch… . Right now [we are] putting him inside, we’ll see how he does there, see how he progresses because he is a good athlete. He does have good size, good length… . It will be an easier switch to put him someplace where he is more familiar.”
For McClellin, it is very much a place with which he is familiar: “I think it’s a good fit for me,” he said, “so I’m going to try to show what I can do.”