Phil Emery's confidence in Lovie Smith's coaching prowess doesn't mean Smith's job will be safe should the Bears fail to meet expectations this season. As we've seen in the NFL, general managers live and die with their choice of head coach. Emery inherited Smith, and even though there's history between the two, Emery would not hesitate to replace him after season's end.
In Emery's first pick as a general manager, he made what looks to be an excellent selection for Chicago going forward. Shea McClellin saw his stock take a dramatic increase as April's NFL Draft moved closer, mostly due to his motor and, more importantly, his versatility.
In college, McClellin lined up at literally every position on Boise State's front seven, though most of his time was spent as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 front (the Bears run a 4-3 front). Many analysts thought outside linebacker would be the most natural position for McClellin at the next level. Emery didn't see it that way—at least that's what he has said.
Emery believes McClellin can eventually become a premiere pass rusher as a 4-3 defensive end. McClellin has shown athleticism, speed, and a feel for the game that allows him to look the part. But did Emery have a secret motive tied into his selection of McClellin?
The previous holdover for the Bears' general manager was as the Kansas City Chiefs’ director of scouting. Emery helped construct one of the best up and coming 3-4 defenses there and saw its successes first-hand. In a league where most teams are running a 3-4 base or hybrid scheme, a switch in defenses after a Smith firing wouldn't be out of the question.
Before McClellin, the Bears simply didn't have the personnel for a switch to 3-4, but McClellin's versatility allows that change to be made almost seamlessly. Unlike a player such as the Colts' Dwight Freeney for example, who played defensive end for the first part of his career and is struggling to switch positions, Julius Peppers' freak ability would allow McClellin to play outside linebacker and immediately have success.
Current Bears’ personnel wouldn’t require a major overhaul to make a change, but, if some do struggle, that's exactly what the NFL Draft and free agency are for.
I do think Emery believes in McClellin's upside as a 4-3 pass rusher, but the pick allows for Bears to keep their options open in either defense. It was the perfect pick first pick for Emery no matter how the 2012 season ends.