BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Every training camp is marked by competitions for jobs at a position. The one between Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton for the starting job at defensive left end is different, though, because they are “competing” for arguably three different positions.
Put another way, for playing time.
“We’re competing right now, Shea and I, for a starting job,” Wootton said back in OTAs. “Nothing is set in stone at this point.”
It still isn’t, but in ways that are likely to have them both on the field at some of the same times. They are “competing” at defensive end. Both have slid inside to tackle, one rushing, the other doing a little of everything. And they are both athletic enough to drop into short zone coverage.
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And what makes it even more unique is that the two contestants were perhaps each other’s biggest supporters last season.
Wootton posted a breakout season in 2012, edging Israel Idonije out of the starting job in week 10, collecting a half-sack of Colin Kaepernick in the San Francisco game and finishing with a career-best seven sacks.
McClellin went through rookie struggles and missed virtually two games due to a concussion early in the Houston game and another with a knee strain.
Wootton was one of the veterans who helped McClellin and was the most vocal celebrator when the rookie had a sack or impact play.
“Being a rookie as we all have, it’s a hard transition trying to get adjusted to everything, and there’s a lot of expectations being a first-round pick and trying to contribute early,” Wootton said. “Anything to help out any of the guys, because we’re all a team and the best guy’ll play.”
But exactly where?
That’s where this gets interesting.
When defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was asked what he saw when he looked at McClellin, a sly smile spread over his face. Linebacker? Defensive end?
“Versatility,” was all he would say.
Versatility started last year when the Bears insisted McClellin put a hand on the ground and rush the passer. He made some progress but as the season wore on he was appearing at defensive tackle and dropping into coverage and lining up at either defensive end spot.
“Whatever they want me to play,” McClellin said, “that’s what I’m going to be doing.”
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Part of the reason the Bears let Idonije go to the Detroit Lions was because Wootton, entering his fourth season, is doing some of what made Idonije valuable as a swingman, which Wootton started doing last season.
“They’ve been moving me inside a little bit for pass-rushing situations,” Wootton said. “I think we’re just trying to get the best four rushers out there all at once. Hopefully, I can go in there and contribute inside a little bit or wherever they need. It was definitely good [last season]. I used my length and size inside to get my hands in the passing lane.”
McClellin worked this offseason adjusting physically, taking his weight up initially but then going down by reducing fat. If you’re potentially three positions, probably a good idea.
“Actually I cut down a lot of fat so I’m feeling really good right now,” McClellin said. “I’m not weighing as much, but that was a lot of fat I had put on, I mean, not a lot of fat, but something I put on, so I cut down like 3 percent body fat or something like that.”