Switch to linebacker may save McClellin’s career

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The Chicago Bears top duo of head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery strongly hinted that the career of 2012 first rounder Shea McClellin is going to change drastically this offseason, possibly with a new position.

Emery was very upfront about the first draft pick he made as general manager of the Bears. McClellin has ability, but the productivity doesn’t necessarily match it. He took the blame for forcing McClellin to be a defensive end and both he and Trestman indicated he may not be there in the future.

Trestman got the ball rolling saying “we’ll look hard at Shea doing things other than lining up at defensive end” and later indicated he could move to strongside linebacker, even if the Bears don’t switch to a 3-4 scheme.

Nobody knows if McClellin can be a good linebacker in either a 3-4 scheme or a 4-3, but it’s painfully obvious he can’t be a good defensive end.

While Emery said their research showed the team was better with McClellin on the field, he also acknowledged that the individual impact from the former first-round pick hasn’t been enough.

McClellin has the talent to be an impact player. According to Pro Football Focus, McClellin had 33 quarterback disruptions (sacks, hurries and quarterback hits), an average of one every 11.2 pass rushing opportunities. That was the best rate on the team of anyone with over 200 rushes, second was Julius Peppers was second with one every 11.5 snaps. The problem is that he didn’t create enough major negative plays.

McClellin finished this season with just four sacks, three of which came in one game. He has just 6.5 sacks in his career. He was a big part of the problem with the Bears 32nd-ranked run defense and didn’t provide nearly enough of an impact as a pass rusher to make up for it.

Many Bears fans wanted the team to take Chandler Jones instead. Jones went to New England where he had  79 tackles and 11.5 sacks in 2013 alone, more than McClellin’s career totals.

Emery cited several examples of players—including New England’s Rob Ninkovich and Jacksonville’s Jason Babin, among others—who have taken a while to catch on, needing the right system to fit their skills. One player he didn’t mention but McClellin’s role may most closely resemble is Denver’s Von Miller.

Miller is a 4-3 outside linebacker who has racked up 35 sacks the last three years despite missing eight games. McClellin doesn’t have quite the skill set of Miller, but he could be used similarly as Denver’s current defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is current Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s hold boss with Jacksonville.

Del Rio runs a hybrid 4-3, which allows Miller to play with his hand up and either rush the passer or drop back in coverage. Perhaps Tucker could call his old boss for some tips?

A player switching for defensive end to linebacker in a 4-3 scheme isn’t unheard of. Seattle just did it successfully with Bruce Irvin.

Irvin was primarily a pass rush specialist in 2012, but switched to strongside linebacker in 2013. While his sack total dropped from eight to two, he was a much better player at linebacker, according to PFF, improving his grade from negative-5.4 to positive-7.0.

The Bears aren’t trying to build their defense around McClellin, they’re just trying to make him a useful player. There is a good chance that he just isn’t a good NFL player, if that’s the case the Bears should do whatever they can to find out.

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