INDIANAPOLIS — You can officially pencil in Shea McClellin as a linebacker on your 2014 Bears depth chart.
Marc Trestman and Phil Emery confirmed Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine that the 2012 first-rounder, who spent his first two seasons as a defensive end, will stand up and play linebacker next season.
“Shea has been communicating with [linebackers coach] Reggie [Herring]. He knows he’s going to be a linebacker,” Trestman said “He knows we’re going to work with him at the ‘Sam’ to start, but he should expect to work at both the ‘Sam’ and the ‘Mike’ positions as he comes back.”
Trestman and Emery hinted at such a move during their Jan. 2 presser, and even though the Bears will primarily remain a 40-front, McClellin will be rushing the passer and stopping the run from the second level.
“I think Shea is really excited about it. Just the opportunity to get off the ball, to be able to run and do some things,” Trestman said. “And that doesn’t mean Shea won’t be a pass rusher. But his skill set is speed. I’m really excited to see how this evolves with him. And most importantly, he’s excited about it.”
Emery clarified that, as of this point, McClellin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene are competing for jobs on the outside, and McClellin could also be a candidate to start in the middle — assuming D.J. Williams is not brought back. The only thing set in stone for the Bears at linebacker in 2014 is Lance Briggs, who will be the weak-side ‘backer.
“He is a perfect candidate to be on the field all downs in some capacity, whether that is blitzing, rushing, playing against the run in run personnel but he is going to have to compete for his job,” Emery said. “He’s going to have to win that job. He could win that job at 'Sam'. He could win that job at 'Mike'.”
The Bears have always been enamored with McClellin’s athleticism, but it wasn’t translating on the field. He had four sacks and 11 QB hits last season, though three of those sacks came in one game. By Pro Football Focus’ metrics, McClellin had the worst grade on defense with a cumulative -28.4, showing his struggles stopping the run and getting after the passer.
In addition to his athleticism that the team still sees as an important asset, Emery lauded McClellin’s size, and how rare that is for the strong-side linebacker spot.
“He will be our biggest linebacker,” Emery said, predicting McClellin would come to camp around 248-252 pounds. “…So that gives him versatility, along with that subset of athleticism and speed.”
It’s not something they would admit, but the fact that McClellin was not only a first-round pick, but Emery’s first pick as the Bears’ GM, has to play a role in the franchise’s desire to see him succeed. Emery maintained that McClellin was the team’s most productive pass rusher last season, and now it’s about getting more out of him from a new position.
“His athleticism allows him to pressure the quarterback,” he said. “We want to put him in position where he can make more plays overall.”