Coaches talk about working on fundamentals and technique to get beyond performance difficulties. Shea McClellin found one other solution to his.
The second-year defensive end, struggling at times through a pedestrian second year after being the 19th overall pick of the 2012 draft, had his best game as an NFL pass rusher on Monday night. He sacked Green Bay quarterbacks three times, beginning with one in the first quarter that resulted in Aaron Rodgers’ fractured collarbone and ending with a takedown of Seneca Wallace on the game’s final play.
The difference for McClellin wasn’t a single move, counter move or other action. It was returning to the most truly basic part of the game for him.
“I think the bottom line was that I was really having fun,” McClellin told CSNChicago.com, shaking his head with an almost relieved smile. “Some of the previous games this year I wasn’t having fun, so I just tried to get back to that, what it was in college where I just went out and played and had fun with it.”
It wasn’t all fun. McClellin was unable to get off a block in time to close down on a gap and allowed Eddie Lacy to blow through a hole for a 56-yard run.
A significant but obscured aspect of McClellin’s play is that he quietly is putting his better games together against the better teams. Besides Monday, his best games of 2013 were against the Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) and New Orleans Saints (6-2), based on evaluations of ProFootballFocus.com, which still grades McClellin as the second-worst 4-3 defensive end on the season.
McClellin’s best pass-rushing game of 2012 was against the Packers at Green Bay, a game in which he was credited with 1.5 sacks. He has had five tackles for loss in the last four games; only Lance Briggs (five vs. New Orleans, one at Washington) has had more, and McClellin has had at least one in each of those games.
“He did a great job (Monday),” said defensive end Julius Peppers. “It’s good to see him out there rushing, and hopefully he can carry that momentum for the rest of the season.”