The McClellin Project: Part II

Shea McClellin is doing what few first rounders are asked to do: switch positions. In his third season, McClellin is moving from defensive end to linebacker and we're documenting the transition.

In Part I of our series documenting former Chicago Bears first rounder Shea McClellin's transition from defensive end to linebacker, we outlined the significance of the position switch.

If the move fails, the Bears will have completely wasted a first-round pick. If the move succeeds, Chicago's staff will have a new, dynamic weapon to deploy on defense.

Through the first few weeks of OTAs, we've had a chance to see McClellin the linebacker up close during two full practices. Here's what we know.

NO WILLPOWER

During these early stages, the Bears are experimenting with McClellin. They don't yet know what they have in him as a linebacker and he's been given reps at both the middle (MIKE) and strong-side (SAM) positions.

During the first week of OTAs, McClellin worked at SAM with the first team, as Jon Bostic was forced to slide inside to replace D.J. Williams, who was not present. With the second team, McClellin lined up at MIKE.

Yet it doesn't appear as if Chicago's coaching staff sees him as a weak-side linebacker (WILL).

Lance Briggs sat out the team portion of practice this week yet McClellin was not elevated to the starting lineup. Instead, last year's fourth rounder Khaseem Greene took all of the first-team reps at WILL, while McClellin worked exclusively at MIKE with the second team.

This is interesting, as McClellin showed at Boise State the sideline-to-sideline speed that could be valuable chasing down ball carriers from the weak side. In addition, he struggled shedding blocks as a defensive end and that's one of the primary roles of a SAM linebacker.

It's a fluid situation and things could change but the coaching staff's reluctance to place McClellin on the weak side is very curious.

COLLEGIATE LINEBACKER

McClellin started 38 of 49 career games at Boise State, 14 at strong-side defensive end and 24 at weak-side defensive end. Don't let those DE designations fool you though, McClellin stood up for the majority of his snaps and played more of a 3-4 OLB role.

His primary job was to rush the quarterback (his 22.5 career sacks rank sixth in school history) yet he was also very effective as a stand-up run stopper. His quickness off the edge resulted in 33.0 tackles for loss in three years as a starter. That's a great sign for the Bears, as McClellin was little more than a turnstile when attempting to set the edge as a defense end. If the extra space he'll have as a linebacker allows him to play downhill and help against the run, the transition has a chance of succeeding.

In coverage for the Broncos, McClellin picked up four career interceptions. He was solid roaming the flats and underneath zones, which would again be his role as a 4-3 OLB in Chicago. Yet whether he can drop back into the deep middle as a MIKE, something in which Brian Urlacher flourished, remains to be seen.

SCOUTING REPORT

McClellin hasn't played linebacker since college, so it would be helpful to pull out his scouting report from the 2012 NFL Draft.

One of the most underrated defensive ends in the collegiate ranks, McClellin is more than likely to shift to outside linebacker at the pro level, thanks to his superb athleticism, non-stop motor, lateral agility and closing speed. He often lined up in a standing position and is a highly instinctive performer whose ability to play in a variety of roles is due to his ability to easily acclimate to any assignment given to him by the staff.

While McClellin excelled in getting after the quarterback, the scouting report shows a player best suited to play linebacker. It's also describes an adaptable, athletic defender who can play a number of roles. If he still holds these traits, the Bears should be in good shape.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth 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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