He is the first to bring up that his first two NFL seasons weren’t what all that good, certainly not what is expected out of a No. 1 draft choice by either player or team.
So when the Bears coaching staff called Shea McClellin in for a meeting to inform him that he was no longer a defensive end and would be a linebacker, he wasn’t insulted. He was excited.
“It’s very natural, the instincts are there and I’ve just got to work on the concepts, the routes, and it’s good to have some guys out here to go against instead of just going against air [in drills], McClellin said.
"I was excited for sure, anticipated that they would, too. My first two years weren’t the greatest but I think linebacker is a natural fit for me. I think it’s what I should be doing and I’m very excited about it.”
McClellin took the field as the strongside linebacker with the No. 1 defense on the first day of OTA’s, with Jon Bostic at middle linebacker. But D.J. Williams, the presumed starter in the middle, was absent from the session, so concluding anything about McClellin’s or Bostic’s job situation is premature.
But McClellin also was on the field with Lance Briggs as the two linebackers in the Bears’ No. 1 nickel unit. McClellin also called the huddle signals as the middle linebacker with the No. 2 unit.
“It’s different going from Sam to Mike but I enjoy linebacker, period, so whatever they want me to do,” McClellin said.
That will be fluid. McClellin goes from being an undersized defensive end, who admitted that it sometimes was difficult for him to see well enough over massive right tackles, to a “big” linebacker, the position at which he excelled at Boise State. The plan is for him to play in the range of 245-250 pounds, a more natural weight for him than the 260 he tried to maintain as an end.
He had a total of just 6.5 sacks in two seasons at defensive end – a half-sack fewer than his senior season at Boise and disappointingly short of the 9.5 of his junior season.
McClellin also goes from spending most of his snaps with a hand on the ground and getting upfield immediately, to a stand-up position where he will blitz but also plays more in coverage than his occasional drops in zone-blitz packages.
“He's an athlete, he's an athletic linebacker and athletic linebackers can play in this league,” said Briggs, an immediate example of an athletic linebacker himself, to the point of playing “dime” packages under Lovie Smith because he was better in coverage than all but a few safeties. “He's got speed, he's smart, he sits next to me in the meeting room. I don't know how smart that is. But Shea size-wise, he can play Mike, right now he's playing Sam. I'm sure coaches are going to move him around see where his best fit is.”
The fact that McClellin has been used in different roles and has significant playing time already, regardless of position, is an asset.
“There’s some things that are new,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “I don’t think we are starting over, necessarily, from every aspect, but in some areas with some guys it’s new or a new start. But there was some ground work laid with some guys a year ago, guys that got a lot of playing time, a lot of experience, and that’s going to carry over into this season.”