The Chicago Bears made a very wise decision on Thursday.
Both defenders will see time in the middle and at strongside throughout the off-season, but the move makes sense especially for McClellin, who hasn't lived up to his potential in the NFL just yet.
McClellin flashed what he could do lined up as a linebacker in training camp last off-season. In an August practice, he stepped back into coverage from his regular end position, read Jay Cutler's eyes on a swing pass intended for receiver Eric Weems and jumped the route eventually intercepting it and taking it in for six.
Typically in training camp the defense is well ahead of the offense in terms of performance on the field. Considering last season, Cutler and the Bears were learning an entire new offensive gameplan under head coach Marc Trestman that was very well in play at Olivet Nazarene University.
But with all that being said just seeing that little glimpse of what McClellin can do as a linebacker likely had general manager Phil Emery thinking big. McClellin will compete for the strongside job like mentioned above and the plan is to have him rush the passer in nickel situations.
The Bears still plan to implement the 4-3 defensive scheme under Mel Tucker, but they will be focusing on catching offenses off guard with unpredictable play calls and McClellin's athletic ability should help.
Emery calls McClellin a "perfect candidate" to be on the field for three downs, but admits that the former 2012 first-round pick has to earn the starting job.
The bust label has been thrown on McClellin a bit in his first two years, but it is way to early for the 6-foot-3, 260 lb to be labeled that considering he rarely played with his hand in the dirt at Boise State. The transition to linebacker could enhance his play much more.
McClellin has appeared in 28 games in two seasons in the windy city, making 10 starts, all coming in 2013. He's generated six-and-half sacks along with 44 tackles and one fumble recovery.
Arguably the biggest moment of his young career came against the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football last season, when he sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and broke his collarbone. McClellin racked up three sacks in that 27-20 MNF win and earned NFC defensive player of the week honors with his performance.
"I think Shea is really excited about it, the opportunity to get off the ball, to be able to run and do some things," Trestman said to the media in Indianapolis on Thursday morning. "That doesn’t mean Shea won’t be a pass rusher. With his skill set, his speed, I’m really excited to see how this thing evolves with him. And most importantly, he’s excited about it."
The chance to read more of the field will only benefit McClellin, who struggled to gain separation from opposing offensive tackles. It will open things up for him as he will be to examine the situations from a far and read the run or pass much easier.
Where does Bostic fit?
A 2013 second-round draft pick, Bostic started nine games at middle linebacker once veteran D.J. Williams was lost for the season due to a torn pectoral muscle against the New York Giants.
Bostic added 56 tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery and an interception in 16 appearances. He racked up a season-high nine tackles in a 23-20 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 13.
Earlier this off-season, Emery mentioned that Bostic could be better suited to play outside linebacker due to his abilities. But right now the Bears don't have many options. The smart and gifted Bostic will only improve with time.
Trestman expressed interest in re-signing D.J. Williams, who will turn 32 this July. He added 27 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in six starts last season.
Williams has previously said he's interested in returning as well. He likely won't demand a big payday nearing the end of his career.
The concern for the Bears at this point is getting the best talent possible on the defensive side. They want to find ways to utilize their best athletes.
Moving McClellin to linebacker should do just that, while Bostic will have another full off-season and training camp under his belt to make improvements. Depth and competition is needed at most positions on defense especially at linebacker where D.J. Williams certainly fits the bill.
With Julius Peppers' $14 million contract a big question mark this off-season and McCellin's move to linebacker, the Bears will look awfully different at the defensive end position. Corey Wootton is a free-agent, who is recovering from a recent hip surgery, but Emery has noted his talents as of late, so his chances of returning are high.
Trestman indicated in Thursday's meeting with the media at the NFL Combine that a defensive overhaul is the top priority this off-season for the Bears.
I can't agree more.
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