When the Bears selected Shea McClellin 19th overall in last year's NFL Draft, Phil Emery left many Bears fans scratching their heads.
McClellin was viewed as a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker who had the ability to rush the passer and drop back into coverage, making it seem like an odd choice for a team deeply rooted in then head coach Lovie Smith's 4-3 Tampa-2 defense.
Smith's firing at the end of the season led many to speculate that the team could be looking to switch to a 3-4, but with the hiring of Mel Tucker, the Bears said they would continue to line up in a 4-3 defensive formation and keep a lot of the same terminology.
McClellin suffered through some injuries last season and only registered 2.5 sacks and seven solo tackles through 13 games as a situational pass-rusher, but he was most notably used as a QB-spy when the team played against the Seattle Seahawks and speedy quarterback Russell Wilson.
Some have speculated that McClellin was drafted as the heir-apparent to Brian Urlacher, but Emery was quick to dismiss that, saying, according to the Chicago Tribune, "We don't envision him playing middle linebacker here. We see him standing up and doing some things in certain situations, spying. The coaching staff will figure out the best way to use him.''
So what is the best way to use him?
While he will never be confused for the Denver Broncos’ Von Miller, Miller offers the best comparison in terms of skill set to McClellin.
When drafted by the Broncos second overall in 2011, many questioned why the team would take a 3-4 outside linebacker while making a transition to a 4-3 defense under new head coach John Fox. The Broncos lined him up at strongside linebacker in their base package (typically in running situations) and moved him down to defensive end when the team moves into one of their sub packages (nickel).
Miller exploded out of the gate his rookie season, registering 11.5 sacks on the way being named Defensive Rookie of the Year. He did not disappoint in his second season, registering 18.5 sacks and was named to his second-straight Pro Bowl.
To expect McClellin to be able to replicate what Miller does would be foolish, but he does offer a blueprint for what players with that skill set can do in a 4-3 defense. McClellin does have a leg up in pass coverage because of what he was asked to do at times at Boise State, and he has the flexibility to drop back from the defensive end spot into coverage and/or to spy a speedy quarterback.
The team appears pretty set in their desire for him to remain at defensive end, but given the collection of skills that he possesses, it will be interesting to see just what they do with him in 2013 and beyond.
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