All indications on Thursday were that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will remain in place for the 2014 season. But some of his players will not.
Shea McClellin’s future will not be as an every down defensive end with his hand in the ground. Indeed, that was not the role envisioned for him when the Bears made him the No. 19 pick of the 2012 draft. Jonathan Bostic was a middle linebacker coming out of Florida and through his first Bears season. His future may lie elsewhere, though.
It does not, however, mean that the Bears are suddenly becoming a 3-4 defense. But they will be demanding more from McClellin, who finished with four sacks and high compliments from the staff.
“When we needed a pass rusher to step up, Shea contributed greatly in terms of our overall production,” GM Phil Emery said. “No matter how we shake out the stats as far as the importance of the person on the field to our pass rush, Shea was No. 1. But he did not have enough impact plays. Sacks are king and Shea did not have enough of those.”
Emery acknowledged that using McClellin as a straight 4-3 defensive end was not the original plan. Emery viewed McClellin in the mold of Rob Ninkovich, the New England Patriots DE/LB at 6-3, 251 pounds, with 22.5 sacks over the past two seasons; or Buffalo’s 6-2, 255-pound Jerry Hughes, who finished 2013 with 10 sacks; or 6-4, 265-pound Jason Babin, with 52 sacks over the past five seasons.
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“[McClellin] was brought in to the Chicago Bears to be a rotational, complementary pass rusher,” Emery said. “The whole idea and thought behind Shea is the high end of the athleticism he has and his speed to handle the quarterbacks that we face and the mobility that they have…
“We were a better pass-rushing unit a year ago when he was in the game than when he was out of the game. That is again true this year. Where he hasn’t had is an impact on sacks. Sacks are king in terms of sacks against you and sacks that you make.”
What the Bears are intent on, however, is getting faster impact from McClellin than Babin, Hughes or Ninkovich, all of whom struggled early and had their breakouts with teams other than the ones that drafted them.
“What I want for Shea is for it not to take that long, for us to find that role, not for the New England Patriots or the Buffalo Bills or the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Eagles to find those roles, but for us,” Emery said. “All of those players have a similar skill set. We need to find a better role fit so that he can be productive as a run-down player and productive as a pass rusher.”
Bostic was pressed into duty at middle linebacker when D.J. Williams was lost for the season with a pectoral muscle. As Lance Briggs finishes his career, whether this year or next, the option of Bostic moving to an outside-linebacker spot is there.
“Where Jon has struggled this year is in terms of being in the middle is the instantaneous in terms of read and react and searching through blocks in flow,” Emery said. “He can improve dramatically in that going into his second season. I just said that from his skill set, some day — that may not be this year, it may be in the future — might be best on the outside to take advantage of the skill sets that he has.”
Neither Emery nor coach Marc Trestman were discussing the future of Mel Tucker, but ostensibly not because of any pending dismissal or other action. For that matter they were unwilling to discuss prospects for Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman or others, either.
The general direction of thought on Tucker’s job with an injury-riddled unit, however, was positive.
“The defensive team that started the season was a Mel Tucker-coached defense,” said Trestman, “a Mel Tucker-coached defense that created havoc on the offenses that we played in the first three games. He really took a backseat to the structure and the defense that was in the year before.
“And what we saw in the first three games was a Mel Tucker defense that looked very similar quite frankly to the tape that I looked at [of] 2012. That’s the facts. That’s what it looked like to me. So No. 1, the transition to the schematics was outstanding and the teaching was very clear, our gap controls, our fits, our ability to disrupt, all those things came into play.”