Latest in a series of posts on NFC North rookies who have generated buzz.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A few days ago, I asked Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli about the challenges of preparing a smallish defensive end for the rigors of run defense in the NFL. It's an important challenge facing Bears rookie Shea McClellin, and Marinelli's answer was telling.
"Hopefully we'll bring him along quickly as a pass-rusher," Marinelli said. "He's still got a lot to learn to play the run."
That's no knock on McClellin, who is listed at 260 pounds but will probably play between 250 and 255 pounds this season. NFL teams are more than willing to sacrifice some size, and even stout run defense, to capture the kind of consistent pass-rusher that seems so elusive in this era of passing efficiency.
But it is an early indication, at least, that the Bears are readying McClellin not so much for an immediate full-time role at defensive end but rather as a situational pass-rusher who can ease his mind (and body) into the job. Consider the example of 2011 rookie Aldon Smith, who managed 14 sacks for the San Francisco 49ers despite not starting a game and playing less than half (48.2 percent) of the team's snaps.
Marinelli's scheme should help minimize the times when McClellin is lined up directly over an offensive lineman, an instance that would make him vulnerable to a power block. Among other things, Marinelli typically positions ends on what he calls the "edge," essentially over the outside arm of a tackle, or else they line up over a tight end.
But by all accounts, McClellin demonstrated enough during the first few days of training camp to suggest he has a good chance to contribute right away as a situational pass-rusher.
"What I've seen already is real," Marinelli said. "He's got exceptional speed. Boy, he's fast. And he's not just fast. It's that initial quickness. It's reaction and movement. Suddenness. If someone moves, he's off and following him. Some guys are fast with no awareness, but he sees it happening. And I believe we'll find out as we get into pads that he's very, very tough."
McClellin knows why he was drafted as well. When I spoke with him Saturday morning, he was eager to put on pads for the first time and translate his early-camp quickness into real football situations.
"I'm trying to focus in on a lot of things," he said. "Pass rush, especially. Stopping the run, I think we'll see how it goes. I think I can hold my own but we'll see how it goes."
Watching the Bears' defensive line drills, especially when matched up against the offense line, suggested McClellin has the kind of quickness and agility that can make him successful in the kind of immediate role the Bears are envisioning. He made a nice play to bat down a Jason Campbell pass after penetrating the pocket, and he also had a first step on many of the offensive linemen he faced in 1-on-1 drills before getting pushed around the pocket on several occasions. I viewed the latter as a function of developing technique more than limited skills.
"What we're trying to do is give [McClellin] a base in the fundamentals," Marinelli said, "without giving them too much so they lose their aggression."
To be continued…
Related: Our entire Rookie Buzz series can be viewed through this handy one-step link.