Bears Playbook - Shea McClellin Versus the Run

USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks into the preseason, and Shea McClellin looks to have taken that next step as a pass rusher. How has he fared against the run? Let's look at the good and discuss the bad.

If last year's draft didn't send the message, Phil Emery's 2013 picks certainly did: the former strength and conditioning coach places a high value on athleticism.  Both of his first round picks - Shea McClellin and Kyle Long - fit the same "freak athlete, unfinished development" mold. The good news for Bears fans is that both look to be on their way to posting strong 2013 performances.

Shea has gotten a bit more muscular over the off-season, but I don't think he'll ever be the kind of defensive end who is going to push an offensive tackle into his quarterback's lap. The Bears didn't draft McClellin with that role in mind, however:in a Tampa 2 defense, that role is reserved more for the defensive interior and the nose tackle in particular.

What a Tampa 2 defensive end needs is an ability to quickly disrupt the offensive backfield in the pass game and an ability to lock down his edge in the run game.  We saw a flash of Shea's ability to do the former when he came flying into the Chargers' backfield and hit Philip Rivers with enough force to knock the QB one way and the ball another.  If McClellin can do that eight to ten times in the regular season, he will have more than earned his keep as a pass rusher.

As far as his development in the run game, it was more of a mixed bag. There were a couple of plays that McClellin was blocked out of the play - bad.  There were other plays, however, where he was able to get enough push on his block that he fulfilled the duties assigned to him.  Let's take a look at one of those first.

First and ten, and the Chargers were looking to pound the ball up the middle.  When the Bears run their base Cover 2, it is the job of at least one defensive end to have edge contain.  In other words, the end's job is to make sure everything stays to the inside of him, where there are six or more defenders ready to clean up the mess.  Shea did that job perfectly, getting around the block at just the right time to foreclose any chance that RB Ryan Matthews could make a cutback and hit the left edge:

Onedgecontain_medium

Your first thought after looking at this one might be that Shea could have gone to the inside of the Chargers tackle and disrupted the play, but if Shea does that, Matthews would have had cut left and found a whole lot of open grass.  If McClellin was a beast on the order of a Julius Peppers, he might have gotten a better push on the offensive tackle and slowed Matthews up at the mesh point, but Shea does not need to be a mauler to be major contributor in this defense.

The reason McClellin doesn't need to have that huge push to succeed is a product of his quick acceleration at the snap. Assign someone else to contain the edge, and McClellin can play more like the 3-4 outside linebacker he was projected at by some scouts: he can read, react, and wreck the play. That's precisely what happened on this next one.


Noedgecontain_medium

Here, Mel Tucker brought down safety Major Wright on a late-developing blitz, which proved to be the perfect defense against the Chargers inside run.  With Wright keeping Matthews inside, McClellin showcased an ability to evade blocks and get to the point of attack. Shea arrives at the hole at the same time as both Matthews and Wright, and the two Bears were able to drag the Charger down for only a small gain.

I'm not sure if Shea McClellin will ever develop into a pure-power defensive end, but I don't want to judge the square peg by how well it fits in the round hole. McClellin doesn't need to be the kind of defensive linesman who bowls over offensive linesmen on his way into the backfield: he needs to hold his ground on the edge and go stride for stride with a back when the play call allows it.  If he continues to show improvements in his ability to defeat blocks and keeps using his speed as his greatest weapon, he will be everything Emery could have hoped for.

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