Bears

Shea McClellin succeeding at Bears LB spot he initially didn’t want

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Shea McClellin succeeding at Bears LB spot he initially didn’t want

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The fact that Shea McClellin is settling in as the signal-caller and starting inside linebacker in a completely new defensive scheme is more than a little surprising to those who watched him struggle the past three years in “wrong” positions. It is perhaps even more than a little surprising to McClellin himself, who initially didn’t want to go where the Bears wanted him.

When the new coaching staff got together this year, “one of our first discussions when we got here was where to play him and most people wanted him to play outside including him, himself,” coordinator Vic Fangio said on Friday. “But I didn't see it that way, I said I want to put him at inside first and, ah, I'm glad we did and I think he's glad we did now even though he wanted to play outside first. I think he's found a home in there.”

McClellin had been a hand-on-the-ground defensive end his first two seasons. When it was clear that was no fit, he was moved last year to strong-side linebacker, where he was barely “sufficient,” in the words of one NFL defensive coach.

[MORE: Soldier Field session Saturday more than just another practice for Bears]

Positives are easy to come by in training camp. But notable in McClellin’s case was that there were very few positives during previous training camps and even fewer once games began.

But McClellin has flashed repeatedly, particularly blitzing, and he continues to be the one relaying the defensive calls from the sidelines to the huddle.

“This is the most fun I’ve had in the last couple years,” McClellin said. “The last couple years, we weren’t doing good as a team and that can get you down. Right now, this is the most fun I’ve had. You have to have fun. It’s hard to play well if you’re not having fun.

“You don’t want to ‘work’ football. You want to ‘play’ football.”

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Neither McClellin nor Christian Jones played “inside” in the previous scheme. Now both are seemingly rangy players stationed at points where they are tasked with shedding or beating offensive linemen, rather than tight ends and backs as they did more often as outside linebackers in the past.

And why McClellin suddenly appears to be working in a spot that not even he thought was right for himself, well… .

“Ah, I can't put a finger on it,” Fangio said, “other than just watching him what little I watched, I just thought it was a better position for him and for us.”

So far, it has played out exactly that way.

NFL Anthem policy won’t keep Sam Acho, others from standing up for what they believe in

NFL Anthem policy won’t keep Sam Acho, others from standing up for what they believe in

By a 31-0 vote, NFL owners on Wednesday approved a policy addressing player protests of the National Anthem that became a political flashpoint last fall. The rule removes the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem, but any team and league personnel who are on the field “shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.”

If a player is on the field and does not “stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” his team will be fined by the NFL. Teams will be allowed to develop their own rules regarding their personnel who “do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” as well.

The NFLPA was not consulted in creating this policy, and collectively sent a strongly-worded statement about the “policy” on Wednesday afternoon.

Sam Acho is the Bears’ union representative and spoke Wednesday about the policy change.

“Obviously, from the beginning, no one’s intent and I think that no one’s purpose was to disrespect the flag,” Acho said. “Everyone’s purpose, starting with Colin Kaepernick, Michael Thomas, Eric Reid — who still doesn’t have a job — was to protest police brutality against people of color. I think that still stands, right? You’re going to find a way to stand up for people who are being unjustly treated, find a way to stick up for justice in whatever way, shape or form you can possibly do it.”

The Bears did not have any player kneel for the National Anthem last year, and as a team decided to lock arms a day after President Donald Trump tweeted, among other things, that teams who have players who knelt should “get that son of a bitch off the field right now.” But just because the Bears didn’t have a member openly protesting during the National Anthem didn’t mean no one was working to raise awareness of injustice and police brutality against people of color, Acho said.

So that players, effectively, will not be allowed to kneel for the National Anthem anymore won’t prevent anyone from continuing their activism for causes in which they believe.

“Was I okay with the ruling? Well I don't know, I guess people make decisions and it's up to you to either stick with them or find a different way to stand up for what you believe in,” Acho said. “So to ask if I'm okay with the ruling I don't know if that's the right question to ask. I think the right question would be well what do you do now? And I think about me and I think about what guys on this team are doing. Like we're already in the community, we're already finding a way to protest police brutality against people of color.

“We're working with the police, we're working with people of color and we're doing it. I think protesting is a great avenue to do that, to bring awareness. Obviously protest has brought a ton of awareness to the abuses of power that are going on in our country and I think that was a great method to start a conversation. Now what we're seeing is we're seeing action.”

Acho added that he and some of his teammates, during a bible study Wednesday morning, focused on a passage from James 2: “Faith without works is dead,” which underscores the importance of players continuing to use their platform to stand up for what they believe in however they can.

“It's one thing to have faith and say you believe in something and it's a total different thing to actually do something about it,” Acho said. “That's why I salute Kaep, I salute Eric Reid, Michael Thomas, all these guys who have from the beginning stood up for injustice. And some of them don't have jobs right now right? Colin Kaepernick right now is not in the NFL. Eric Reid is not in the NFL, they're paying the price, right?

“But I think that their, martyrdom is a strong word but, I just use that term now, their martyrdom is actually paying huge dividends for people with no voice. They're speaking up for the voiceless and as a Chicago Bear, as an NFL player I'm going to continue to do that in any way, shape or form.

“As you all know last year we didn't have guys taking a knee. We locked arms, we stayed together, we were unified as a team. That's what we are, we're a team but just because you're not protesting the National Anthem doesn't mean somebody can keep you from standing up for those that are being treated unfairly.”

Whatever the Bears do in 2018, they’ll do as a team — Mitch Trubisky said he believes he and his teammates will all be on the field for the National Anthem — but, despite today’s policy change, that won’t keep players like Acho from continuing to further their message.

“I don't think anything really changes at this point, right?” Acho said. “Obviously, the NFLPA goes back and says, 'OK, what do we do now? As a union, what do we do? How will we respond?' But, to be honest, I think a lot of players are happy about the conversations that are happening. So the protest served their purpose.

“If guys still want to protest, obviously the ruling is if that if you don't want to stand for the anthem, according to the owners, you can stay inside. You may see a whole team stay inside like Pittsburgh did in Week 3. I'm not Nostradamus, so I don't know what happens next, but I will say we continue to do what we're doing, speak up for those who can't speak up for themselves.” 

Under Center Podcast: What should we make of Kevin White?

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: What should we make of Kevin White?

Kevin White had a, well, interesting media session on Wednesday, but was he wrong for how he approached it? Plus, Moon and JJ look at Mike Furrey’s approach to White and how Mitch Trubisky is quickly growing into being a leader barely over a year after being drafted. 

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: