A 'dilemma' for Bears coaches: How to get McClellin on the field


A 'dilemma' for Bears coaches: How to get McClellin on the field

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. First, a disclaimer: This is not a suggestion that Shea McClellin belongs at linebacker. is not in the business of advocating personnel decisions. But:

What if rookie defensive end Shea McClellin were only the Bears fourth-best defensive end but one of their best 11 defensive players? Corey Wootton, who had a strong game Thursday against Denver All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady, is far and away the best end after Israel Idonije and Julius Peppers. Wootton could be playing his way into the discussion for starting, but that's for another time.

McClellin isnt Best-11 right now, although few players warranted more watching on Thursday than McClellin. Several experts have said he will be at his best when he is in game action that demands instinctive reactions to developing situations.

That was indeed the case. McClellin had a sack, two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss and was involved. He was road kill on a couple of running plays, but so were more than a few of his teammates in a game that saw the Denver Broncos pile up 158 rushing yards.

McClellins progress has been significant almost daily, despite his being assigned a huge dose of work deep into practice with backup units that have him visibly gassed. One thing the staff has not done is coddle the No. 1.

He is definitely not yet a top-11, however. Still, what if...

If he were an offensive lineman, he would be starting. Mike Tice as line coach and now coordinator has long espoused that the five best in that group will start. That principle cant automatically be applied to a larger group like an entire defense.

But that principle in its loose form does apply; the best 11 at getting to and attacking anyone with a football on any given play usually do ultimately find their ways onto the field.

McClellin was not repeat, not drafted to be a linebacker. He was, however, drafted to be a pass rusher. How he does it, or from where, is a franchise-grade story to watch.

The Urlacher Case

Coaches once made an acknowledged mistake with another elite football player when they put a rookie Brian Urlacher at strong-side linebacker in 2000. The thinking was that Sam was a way to get Urlacher on the field, at a spot where assignments were ostensibly simpler than in the middle, 54s eventual spot.

That didnt work because Urlacher, an instinctive player with extraordinary speed for his size (260 pounds), was getting locked up with tight ends at points of attack. That wasnt the case when he was an All-American safety at New Mexico. He was the point of attack, or at least got there before the ball carrier.

The mistake was forcing a player with a certain mix of mental and physical skills into a position that did not fit the skill set. Coaches in fact had underestimated Urlacher (and Roosevelt Colvin, whose job had been handed to Urlacher on draft day) and what he was capable of.

Coaches are giving McClellin a seemingly simple mission statement: Beat the tackle or tight end right in front of him. Unlike Urlacher, McClellin has played on the line of scrimmage extensively in college and he did it well, with seven sacks last year at Boise State.

Instead of over-estimating what McClellin can do with his hand on the ground, though, is he being under-estimated in the bigger picture?

An objective with the three-point stance is to shrink the target area for McClellin, so he is not peeking into backfields or being swarmed by blockers and deceptions that are part of NFL offenses.

But what if he is at his best, like Urlacher, when all about him is chaos?

The Miller Case

The Denver Broncos and coach John Fox are practitioners of the 4-3. Von Miller, the No. 2-overall pick in last years draft, was defensive rookie of the year after collecting 11.5 sacks. He operates largely out of a strong-side linebacker slot in a 4-3 scheme at 237 pounds.

Thats too light for a true Sam linebacker, except that Miller doesnt play that position like a classic 4-3 Sam backer. He rushes the passer. Against the Bears last year: a sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, five tackles. On the other side, Elvis Dumervil (a defensive end at 5-11, 260) also had a sack, five tackles, and a tackle for loss and three QB hits.

McClellin isnt Miller, any more than he is Clay Matthews, another edge bullet for Green Bay. He isnt Dumervil, either. But if he plays his way into being one of the best 11 defensive players, Bears coaches will have a good problem on their hands.

Under Center Podcast: Bears trounced by Saints, and questions abound

USA Today Sports

Under Center Podcast: Bears trounced by Saints, and questions abound

Laurence Holmes is joined by Olin Kreutz, Matt Forte, Lance Briggs, and Alex Brown to break down the Bears' highly dispiriting 36-25 loss to the Saints at Soldier Field. The guys discuss why the loss was so disappointing and frustrating (2:00), the lack of progress for many players since last year (5:00), the possibility of somebody other than Nagy calling plays (10:00), whether the Bears can save their season and still make the playoffs (14:00), and the massive problems in the run game this season (22:00).

Listen here or via the embedded player below:


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Another lackluster return from Mitch Trubisky leaves the Bears offense in a state of panic

Another lackluster return from Mitch Trubisky leaves the Bears offense in a state of panic

Given Sunday’s parallels to the Bears’ 2018 clunker against the Rams, the spotlight on QB Mitch Trubisky may have been even brighter against the Saints than it usually is – which is saying something. 

Four quarters, 250 yards and one blowout loss later, the only thing that’s changed is that the Bears no longer have the luxury of hiding another subpar performance from their franchise quarterback behind a monstrous, game-changing defense. Trubisky’s numbers against New Orleans look better on paper, but the eye test told a much different – or similar, technically – story. 

“It's hard to pinpoint it,” he said after the 36-25 loss. “Just frustrating, ugly. Couldn't swing momentum in our way – couldn't really get going. Just sputtered out. We've just got to find ways to stay on the field, especially after 3rd down and move the chains and get going."

“I want to go back, watch and see like progression-wise [how he did],” Matt Nagy added. “I know there's one there early in the game where we missed a corner route on 3rd down, and Mitch knows -- he knows that he can connect on that. We've connected on it a lot in practice.” 

That specific miss sums up much of what’s plagued Trubisky through his time in Chicago. On 3rd-and-6, with Taylor Gabriel finding separation on a 20-yard corner route, the QB rushes through his throwing motion and misses an easy first down. 

“I'm going to go back and watch it because that's one of my favorite throws,” Trubisky said. “And I hit that every single time this week in practice, so why it didn't translate to the game is really frustrating for me. I felt like that's an easy throw that I make easily, and I just wasn't on the same page and didn't put it in the spot to give my guy a chance.” 

Another miss – this time overthrowing Anthony Miller on a seam route – provided a great example of the communication issues that have plagued the passing game. Miller had a step on two defenders, but according to Nagy and Trubisky, cut in on the route when the play directed that he cut out. 

“That's one of Anthony's really good routes that he runs,” Trubisky said. “And he separates and gets open, and I just felt like I had to get the ball out within that time because they created pressure up front. Someone slipped through, and from what I can remember, he just went inside, so I tried to throw a tight seam and give him a chance. But I was on the ground after that, so I'm going to have to go back on the film and watch it and correct it.” 

“Those are plays that you look at and you just -- you'd like to convert on those and connect.,” added Nagy.

The coach also conceded that Trubisky looked rusty on some throws, but was quick to credit the quarterback for making others (he didn’t specify which). Still, silver linings were little consolation to the Bears on Sunday night, and will continue to mean less and less as the season goes on. For being a team that supposedly has great weeks of practice, plenty of questions remain about where all that goes on Sundays. 

“Why it's not translating, I don't have a theory,” Trubisky added. “All I know is, go back to work and make sure that you put in all that work during the week to make sure it translates.”

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