By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) With just a week until this year’s NFL Draft, it remains to be seen if Phil Emery’s first draft class as Bears general manager was a successful one.
Following in the footsteps of Jerry Angelo — whose lack of draft success is well documented — Emery surprised many when he used his first pick to draft a 3-4 linebacker out of Boise State to play defensive end in the Bears’ 4-3 scheme.
In all honesty, Shea McClellin didn’t get a fair welcoming to Chicago after he became the 19th overall selection in last year’s draft. He arrived with a lot of scrutiny — most of it coming from people who had never even seen him play or workout before.
But after a year in which Bears fans’ only compliment for the first-round draft pick was to anoint him Brian Urlacher’s replacement at middle linebacker, McClellin is still at defensive end and a brand new coaching staff likes what it sees.
“He’s athletic, he’s got pass rush ability,” new Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said Wednesday. “He’s very conscientious about getting better each and every day. That’s what I was told about him.
“I saw the ability on tape and I see it on the practice field so I’m very encouraged.”
Through two voluntary mini-camp practices, McClellin has split time with Corey Wootton on the No. 1 defensive line unit, a sign that the Bears want to use the second-year end more this year.
Working primarily on passing downs last season, McClellin racked up just 14 tackles and 2.5 sacks in limited time, with all of his sack contributions coming in the first seven weeks of the season. But the tape shows a player that was more disruptive than the stats show, which is why there is optimism that McClellin will make a significant jump in his second NFL season.
“All good players want to master their craft, they want to get better at it,” new head coach Marc Trestman said. “And you would expect from the first to the second year there would be a pretty good ascension in their play if they are doing all the right things and taking care of themselves.”
Year 2 in the NFL is typically when players make the biggest jump in their careers, mainly because it is their first full offseason with an NFL team. Instead of spending the winter preparing for workouts where speed and agility are important, McClellin has had the time to bulk up and work specifically on his pass-rush technique.
“I can concentrate on working on my craft instead of getting ready for the 40 or the pro-agility,” he said Wednesday. “I can concentrate on working the bags or going out with another guy and doing pass-rush drills or something like that.”
McClellin has added 5-7 pounds of muscle to his frame, while also cutting down on his body fat percentage, and plans to increase that number even more before training camp. His lack of size and strength were a big reason why most teams envisioned him being an outside rusher in a 3-4 scheme, but the Bears still believe he’ll develop into a valuable defensive end in their system.
“I need to continue to work on my pass rush, get better at that at the point of attack, getting off,” McClellin said. “Just little things that I can get better at. Working my hands a lot more than I did last year.”
The question is, can he develop into an every down player? Nineteenth overall draft picks aren’t used on players who can only play on passing downs.
“He’ll get what he earns,” Tucker said.
The Bears are counting on him earning a lot.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHoge and read more of his columns here.