Shea McClellin’s performance in the preseason opener, his first as an NFL linebacker, left a lot to be desired. He lacked awareness in coverage and was hesitant at the point of attack.
According to Pro Football Focus, McClellin graded -3.6 against the Eagles, which was the second lowest grade of any Chicago Bears defender. The lowest grade went to Jon Bostic, which is even more concerning, although that’s a story for another time.
McClellin played defensive end his first two years in the NFL, so it wasn’t all that surprising to see him struggle last Friday. The problem is that he did very little to give Bears fans confidence he can develop into a viable starter at linebacker.
Despite his less-than-stellar outing last week, Chicago’s coaching staff, to a man, believes McClellin has the skill set and potential to excel at his new position.
“It’s one of those things where he’s working at it,” coordinator Mel Tucker said. “We see him do it in practice. He looks very instinctive in practice and we saw him make sudden movements and quick decisions in the game. I think he’s already doing that to a certain extent and we just have to work to get better.”
Regarding practice, Tucker has a point. McClellin does look decent on defense when there’s no contact. In fact, linebackers coach Reggie Herring believes McClellin has the most sideline-to-sideline potential of any linebacker on the roster.
“He moves as good as any of these other linebackers,” Herring said this week. “To be honest with you there are times out there when he moves better than all of them. He changes directions, breaks on the ball.”
The film of McClellin’s first game at linebacker is ugly but Herring is confident the former Boise State OLB has the instincts to develop rapidly.
“He has great instincts. Take him squirrel hunting and he’ll knock the eyes out of them,” Herring said. “Shea has shown enough out here that I believe he has linebacker instincts. I think he’s going to be fine. He’s committed. He works hard. He’s made plays as good as any backer out here. It’s a matter of game experience, playing fast and adjusting to certain things he hasn’t seen in a couple of years. It’s got to be a process.
“It’s a process. You all be patient. At the end of the day, we’ll know after the first game, second game, we’ll know where we’re at with him. Right now, he’s on schedule. He needs to play more games. He needs more at bats and I really believe he’ll come and he’ll be a solid player for us. That’s my prediction.”
Yet it’s obvious McClellin isn’t there yet, which makes one wonder how long the team will ride his ship underwater if he begins to sink when the games matter.
For now though, the staff feels confident McClellin can prove himself worthy of his former first-round status, it’s just going to take some time.
“I think that for the first time in the first game, I think he got his feet under him,” coach Marc Trestman said. “I think you’re going to see more improvement as we go along as he locks into the SAM position. Playing at that speed and playing real football, so to speak, that’s not an easy thing to do. I thought he was sufficient, but I think there are signs that he can play a lot better and I’m sure he would tell you that.”
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.