Bears Camp Preview: 13 Days

With training camp just 14 days away, we continue our 15-part series breaking down the top Bears storylines. In our second installment, we look at two second-year players with high expectations.

The Chicago Bears had two major needs heading into last year's draft: defensive end and wide receiver. Along with the offensive line, most analysts believed those to be the biggest areas of concern for Phil Emery in his first draft as GM of the organization.

As a result, Emery selected Shea McClellin in the first round and traded up in the second round to draft Alshon Jeffery.

In his rookie season, McClellin was used in a part-time role, typically as a situational pass rusher. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he played 368 total snaps in 2012 – 268 as a pass rusher, 85 against the run and 15 in coverage. He finished the year with 2.5 sacks, seven total tackles, zero pass defended and zero forced fumbles.

Shea McClellin
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

In comparison, Chandler Jones – the player most felt was a better fit for Chicago's 4-3 defense, whom the Patriots traded up to select just two picks after McClellin – racked up 45 tackles, 6.0 sacks, five passes defended and three forced fumbles.

McClellin also missed two games as a rookie, one for a concussion, which is either the second or fourth concussion of his career, depending on who you talk to. The recurrence of head injuries is a concern going forward.

Any way you slice it, McClellin was a disappointment last season. He came nowhere close to living up to his status as the 19th overall selection. Yet there are reasons for hope, you just have to look a bit deeper.

First, McClellin had 22 hurries last year, according to PFF. That's four more than Corey Wootton, who had nearly 80 more pass-rush snaps, and just two less than Pro Bowler Henry Melton. McClellin also had four QB hits, which was one less than both Wootton and Isreal Idonije, who rushed 199 more times than McClellin in 2012.

McClellin wasn't finishing his rushes but he was getting pressure on the quarterback. That's a good sign. If he can start closing those plays, he'll develop into the pass-rush threat the Bears believe him to be.

Second, his 15 coverage snaps were the most of any defensive lineman on the team last season. That shows not only his athleticism but his positional versatility, which will provide new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker plenty of formational flexibility. Used creatively in a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role, the Bears may be able to find ways to truly utilize McClellin to his full potential. And after seeing how imaginative Tucker has been with his second-year pass rusher this offseason, it's safe to say he's open to lining up McClellin all over the field this year, and in a number of different roles.

In camp, we'll be paying close attention to McClellin during the live drills, particularly the 1-on-1s between offensive and defensive linemen. His pass-rush arsenal was limited last year and he didn't show a lot of strength. He said during minicamp that he put on roughly seven pounds of muscle this offseason. If that translates to the field, he can finally start ripping through those arm blocks to create havoc in the backfield. Seeing McClellin square off against Jermon Bushrod will give us a good idea of how much he's progressed.

For Jeffery, there is even more hope. He also struggled as a rookie, finishing 2012 with just 24 receptions for 367 yards and three touchdowns. He missed six games, four with a wrist injury and two more after a knee scope. His worst game came in Week 15 against the Green Bay Packers, when he finished with no catches and three offensive pass interference penalties.

Alshon Jeffery
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY Sports

While he had some rough stretches, Jeffery showed serious flashes of potential as a rookie. He had strong outings in Week 1 (three catches, 80 yards, 1TD), Week 14 (three catches, 57 yards, 1TD) and the season finale (four catches, 76 yards). Jeffery used his size well to shield defenders and demonstrated good downfield speed. On fly routes, posts and comebacks, he was a weapon.

Two things hurt Jeffery last year. First, he wasn't able to stay on the field. Injuries cost him a large portion of the season, which never gave him the opportunity to develop trust and chemistry with Jay Cutler. In order for that to change this year, Jeffery needs to stay off the injury report. He missed almost all of veteran minicamp last month with a knee injury, which isn't a good start to the season.

Second, with Jeffery out for six of seven games between Weeks 7-12, Cutler became increasingly more dependant on Brandon Marshall. It resulted in a Pro Bowl season for Marshall but the passing offense finished 29th in the league. By the time Jeffery returned in Week 13, Cutler was so locked on to Marshall that the rookie wideout on the other side of the field became an afterthought.

Cutler has to have a true No. 2 receiver if the passing attack is going to improve. Jeffery must become that player. If he's a dependable weapon on the other side of the field, defenses won't be able to double team Marshall on every down. And if they do, Jeffery has to take advantage of single coverage. With Martellus Bennett softening the middle of the field, and a new West Coast passing offense predicated on spreading the ball around, Jeffery will have a great opportunity to become a breakout player in 2013.

Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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