Chicago Bears rookie defensive end Shea McClellin came into the league with a lot of questions surrounding his ability to play base end in a 4-3 scheme. He was expected to be, at worst, a situational pass rusher. At best, he would supplant veteran Israel Idonije on the left side. Those were reasonable expectations for the rookie. He didn't need to put up double-digit sacks, just be a consistent threat on every down.
Unfortunately for the organization, McClellin didn't quite live up to expectations.
Perhaps the biggest concern surrounding McClellin is not his overall ability but that he's susceptible to concussions. He suffered three concussions at Boise State and sustained his fourth career concussion during his rookie season. This will forever be a cloud that hangs over his head as it could cut his career short.
As a pass rusher, McClellin was essentially middle of the pack in comparison to the rest of his rookie classmates. The NFL tallies three key productivity stats to grade out how good players are at making plays behind the line of scrimmage. The three main categories are sacks, QB hits and tackles for a loss.
For rookie pass rushers in 2012, McCellin finished fifth in the league with 2.5 sacks, fourth with six QB hits and seventh in tackles for a loss.
There were less-productive rookies selected in the first few rounds of last year's draft, yet they played in less game – Green Bay's Nick Perry missed 10 games with a knee injury and Philadelphia's Vinny Curry didn't receive much in the way of playing time.
Going back and examining the tape, McClellin only had one legitimate sack on the season, one he earned by himself based on a solid pass rush. The other 1.5 sacks for which he was credited were of the jump-on-the-pile variety – almost ticky tacky in the way he was awarded the sack.
His first sack of the season came in the Packers game in Week 2.
McClellin rushes from the right defensive end spot, beats the left tackle to the outside with a good speed rush and sacks Aaron Rodgers.
His next half sack, also against the Packers, comes as he takes a hard outside rush from the left DE spot.
Bryan Bulaga has the rookie locked up to the outside. Rodgers sees a hole from where McClellin broke contain and tries to step up and run for positive yards.
McClellin spins off of Bulaga and gives chase. He combines with Henry Melton for a sack as they haul a scrambling Rodgers down for a one-yard loss.
McClellin's next half of a sack comes against the Detroit Lions. It's a garbage credit sack in which McClellin helps bring QB Matthew Stafford down as he's swallowed up by both Idonije and Julius Peppers. McClellin may not even deserve credit for this sack but he was awarded it anyway.
His last half sack of the season also came against Detroit. McClellin isn't initially blocked but is then picked up by a pulling left guard who comes across the formation to block him. There is no real block engagement by either player on this play. DE Corey Wootton does all the work as he flushes Stafford from the pocket.
As Stafford moves from the pocket, McClellin dives at his ankles and appears to trip Stafford up, who is then swallowed up and brought down by Stephen Paea. Paea and McClellin split the sack but it was Paea who brings Stafford down after Wootton flushes him out of the pocket.
McClellin's one earned sack shows some of his ability as a pass rusher. Overall though, he did not show a burst of explosion off the edge. He doesn't have that first step a lot of elite pass rushers possess. He has speed and athleticism but didn't look like a natural pass rusher at any point as a rookie.
McClellin also lacks a pass rusher's arsenal of moves and counter moves. He doesn't use much of a swim or a rip move, nor does he have an effective bull rush. He has a speed rush to the outside, which he uses to set up a spin move back to the inside – a move that needs a lot of work. He also does not use his hands well to disengage from blockers.
To make matters worse, McClellin didn't play the run very well this season. He did make a few plays with some hard inside slants against offensive tackles. At times, he made it hard for some blockers to stop him from getting penetration, which was a small part of his success this season.
However, being able to hold the edge against the run or stack and shed to make a play as a defensive end, is something in which he didn't demonstrate any real ability. He shows no real promise against the run when engaged with offensive tackles and was often over-matched against strong blocking tight ends.
The best aspect about McClellin's game is his versatility to be able to rush from any position on the field. The Bears flip flopped him from one side to the other and utilized him as a rover where he blitzed from a linebacker position. McClellin was most successful, not when he was used as a defensive end, but more like a stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker.
After the firing of former head coach Lovie Smith last week, many believed a switch to a 3-4 scheme would help get the most out of McClellin. However, GM Phil Emery seemingly squash any thought of that ever happening in his press conference following Smith's termination.
"We have 4-3 personnel," said Emery. "For somebody to move from 4-3 to 3-4, they're going to have to convince me that we have the players with the skill sets and the body types to move towards that defense. We don't have those people. So [the new coach] is going to have to do a lot of convincing to me to convince me that's the direction that we want to spend additional time and resources reconstructing our defensive talent base to fit a brand new system."
A lot of questions remain unanswered with Chicago' 2012 first round draft pick. McClellin did not show any real ability to be a full-time 4-3 defensive end this year. He's going to have grow a lot within that role – both physically and from a technique standpoint –to have success.
Making things even harder is the potential loss of Rod Marinelli, one of the best defensive line coaches in the NFL. If Marinelli is released from his contract, the team's new coach is going to be under a lot of pressure to maximize some of the few positives McClellin brings to the table.
Brett Solesky has worked in TV, newspapers and, for the last seven years, in radio. He also co-hosts the best Chicago Bears podcast on the Web, Bear Report Radio, which appears on BearReport.com and his blog MidwayIllustrated.com.