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.
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.