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


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.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get your Bears gear right here]

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.

What do the Bears have in their running backs? They’re about to find out

USA Today

What do the Bears have in their running backs? They’re about to find out

The Bears were pleased with what they saw from their overhauled running back room during non-padded OTA and minicamp practices during the spring, but consider that an incomplete evaluation. 

David Montgomery, in particular, impressed with his quickness, athleticism and route running. Nothing Mike Davis showed dissuaded the team from believing in the free agent signing’s untapped potential. Positive things were said about seventh-round pick Kerrith Whyte Jr. and second-year undrafted free agent Ryan Nall. 

The only running back returning from 2018’s unit is Tarik Cohen. But while Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy and the Bears’ talent evaluators did their homework on their new players, they won’t really get to see what they have until the pads come on in Bourbonnais (Nagy expects the first padded practice of training camp to be Sunday). 

“I know (Montgomery) kept asking coach, ‘when do we put the pads on?” Pace said. “And so we’re to that point. One of his greatest strengths is his contact balance and his ability to break tackles, and now we’re at a point where that can be showcased.”

It’s one thing for a rookie to stand out during OTAs and minicamp. Tight end Adam Shaheen did two years ago, bodying up NFL-caliber defenders to make some impressive plays in those non-padded practices. But he faded when pads came on in training camp and didn’t play a significant role in 2017’s dour offense. 

The Bears believe Montgomery’s ability to break tackles — he forced the most missed tackles among FBS running backs in 2018 with 99, per Pro Football Focus — will translate to the NFL, giving their ground game a dimension it didn’t have in 2018. Jordan Howard avoided 22 tackles on rushing attempts last year, 28th in the NFL and nearly half the total of Kareem Hunt. Hunt appeared in 11 games (five fewer than Howard) before the Kansas City Chiefs released him after video surfaced of him pushing and kicking a woman; Montgomery’s style of play has favorably been compared to Hunt’s.  

As for Davis, Pace said: “I think I feel like he’s a little bit under the radar right now. Mike’s had a great offseason and we’re fortunate to have him. That’s a strong room — we talk about the receivers, we feel the same way about the running back room. And Mike Davis is a real important part of that.”

The Bears feel like Montgomery, Davis and Cohen leading their running back room will allow them to be less predictable and more efficient on offense. Last year, Howard carried the ball two-thirds of the time he was on the field, while he was targeted with a pass on just six percent of his plays. Yet no skill position player (except Mitch Trubisky, of course) was more involved in the Bears’ offense last year — 33 percent of the Bears’ total plays involved Howard. 

All three of the Bears’ top running backs in 2019 will be expected to catch passes out of the backfield as well as running the ball with a blend of efficiency and explosiveness. We’ll begin to find out this week in Bourbonnais if Pace’s overhaul of that corner of his depth chart will produce the results the Bears’ offense needs. 

Confirmed: Vic Fangio is still grumpy as hell

USA Today

Confirmed: Vic Fangio is still grumpy as hell

Former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is starting his first (overdue) season as an NFL head coach. 

It's his first time running the show, making the rules, etc. One particularly important rule that Fangio has emphasized to start the year? Music has no place on the football field! 

Fangio won't be playing music during practice because, as noted Grump Bill Belichick can attest to, if you're having fun, you're not getting better. Here's his rationalization: 

"There's no music in games. And when it comes to the point where we need to simulate crowd noise in practice, which we will do, it will be noise. It won't be music," said Fangio, via NFL Network's James Palmer. "Noise, by definition, sounds annoying. Music sounds nice."

He's not wrong - music DOES sound nice. That's about where he stops making much sense, though. 

Vic Fangio: still kinda grumpy!