Shea McClellin making the most out of fresh start with Bears

Draft status no longer has anything to do with Shea McClellin's standing

BOURBONNAIS — The blitz fell apart, at least the way it was designed. So instinct took over, and lo and behold Shea McClellin wound up at the quarterback during Saturday's scrimmage at Soldier Field.

He and Christian Jones would have sacked Jimmy Clausen during a game, but the Bears aren't about to beat up their quarterbacks. It's a sign that even when the plan goes awry as players settle into Vic Fangio's defense, sometimes good things happen.

"The blitz didn't go according to plan," McClellin said. "But we played off what did happen. We just didn't run it right, but the play turned out."

If McClellin turns out this season, his fourth with the Bears, it will be a bonus for a defense that entering Thursday's exhibition opener against the Dolphins at Soldier Field has so much up in the air. McClellin has been running almost exclusively with the starters since the offseason program began as the "Mike" with Jones playing the other inside linebacker position known as the "Jack."

The most telling thing to this point is that general manager Ryan Pace, coach John Fox and Fangio have no stake in the first draft pick of the Phil Emery era. If they didn't like McClellin, they would have moved on or he would be languishing somewhere down the depth chart.

"It's a fresh start," McClellin said. "They have nothing invested in me."

Shortly after Fox's coaching staff was assembled, the Bears reached out to McClellin and asked him where he would be most comfortable playing. He was excited about the chance to be an outside linebacker in the 3-4, most similar to what he did at Boise State. A week later, Fangio called and informed him they planned on using him inside.

After being moved from defensive end to strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, he still wasn't playing where he thought he might be best. There was no big reaction, no directive to his agent to create a ruckus.

"They told me I was playing Mike and I said OK, and I started training for that and getting ready for that," he said. "I think it was a good call."

Fangio said the puzzle at linebacker began after the decision was made to use McClellin and Jones inside, but he couldn't put a finger on why he liked McClellin inside. It could be he knew he already had a handful of options on the outside and the depth chart was thin on the interior.

"I think he's found a home in there and it's going to be a growing process," Fangio said. "It's a position that relies a lot on experience, instincts, play recognition, and I think he's getting better and better at that."

The decision surprised one NFC college scouting director who liked McClellin as a 3-4 outside linebacker out of college. But inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires stressed the staff came in with no preconceived notions. The more the coaches looked at it, the more they felt McClellin was a fit for what they were looking for from the Mike. He's charged with making the calls in the huddle and the adjustments, something he had never been asked to do.

"What are his strengths?" Pires said. "Smart guy, understands concepts and could take on a leadership role. Those were all things that we looked at and he seemed to have a lot of those qualities when we sat and talked to him when we first got here. He is a very open guy too. He just wants to play."

Maybe it's wrong to call this McClellin's last stand with the Bears, but every player asked to learn a third scheme in four years for a third coaching staff is at a crossroads. There was no suspense in the team's decision to decline his fifth-year option. He enters the final year of his contract eager to make an impact.

"He built a good foundation during the spring and he is getting more comfortable," Pires said. "He is certainly far away from where we want him to be because now it is the physical part but he is going in the right direction. I am really anxious to see these preseason games."

McClellin understands onlookers referred to him as "Emery's guy" in the previous regime.

"People could say that," he said. "I still think I earned (playing time)."

Now, he has to earn it all over again at a position he didn't envision being at. If he sticks, it won't have anything to do with his draft status.

bmbiggs@tribune.com

Twitter @BradBiggs

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