When the Chicago Bears selected Boise State outside linebacker Shea McClellin in the first round of this year's draft, I called the pick a reach. I felt he was a better fit in a 3-4 defense and questioned his ability to set the edge against the run as a 4-3 defensive end.
The response to my criticism was fervent, to say the least.
After the first week of training camp, many of my worries appear at least partially justified. He hasn't shown active hands as a pass rusher and struggles to disengage. Against the run, nearly every offensive tackle and tight end on Chicago's roster has had his way with McClellin. He has shown good quickness but his lack of ideal size and strength has hurt him so far.
Despite my feelings of justification, I am not yet ready to call him a bust, unlike many other observers. After just four padded practices, it's far too early to come to any concrete conclusions about the kid. The sample size just isn't big enough.
DE Shea McClellin
Yet that hasn't stopped an ocean of worry and criticism from washing over Chicago's media and fans. Everywhere one turns, the conversation is about McClellin and how poorly he has performed so far.
For sure, he has been very disappointing. Those who have come to Bourbonnais to see Chicago's first rounder have walked away unimpressed. During 1-on-1 drills, McClellin has been consistently worked over. If the Bears were to make cuts today, disregarding draft position, McClellin wouldn't make the final 53-man roster.
In our most-recent podcast, we spoke with Matt Bowen, former NFL player and current writer for the Chicago Tribune. He talked about McClellin, and rookies in general, and the fact that what you want to see out of them is improvement every day.
Most rookies, regardless of where they were drafted, don't come in and tear the roof off during their first week of practice. They typically need time to adjust to the speed and tempo of the game.
For a player like McClellin, who was never a full-time 4-3 defensive end in college, the learning curve is a bit a steeper. He's not familiar with Chicago's system and will need time to get acclimated. Right now, it's all about baby steps.
According to coordinator Rod Marinelli, that first baby step is to consistently get off the ball quickly.
"I keep talking about, ‘make sure you're getting off the ball, I'll clean you up.' So as long as he keeps coming off the ball then we can clean this up," Marinelli said yesterday. "I think it was our third or fourth padded [practice] today, so we'll just keep going."
During pass rush drills this past Sunday, McClellin looked awful. He didn't show much explosion and was far too easily blocked. Yet yesterday, during the same drills, he got a hand on the quarterback three times. That is the type of small improvement you want to see out of a player learning a new position. If he continues to improve in that manner every practice, he'll soon be a serviceable defender that can contribute this year.
It may not come that fast though. McClellin could be a late bloomer, who may not see considerable playing time until his second or third season. That isn't what you want out of a first round pick but it's not his fault the Bears made a reach. He's being labeled a bust already because of where he was drafted, yet the blame should fall on the organization for selecting him too early, like I said back in May.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.