During mini-camp the Bears did a lot of experimentation with their fronts, their blitz packages and different ways in which they were going to use their best pass rushers. They showed looks that had some 3 down linemen 4 linebacker looks, 4 defensive ends at once, and flipping Melton outside and Peppers or Wootton inside. They even had Shea McClellin roving around in gaps as a a linebacker as an end or inside as a defensive tackle.
None of this stuff with McClellin is exactly new, but it highlights a lot of the ways the Bears plan to be versatile with the second year defensive end. One of the ways the Bears used McClellin last year was like a linebacker.
I was browsing around a recent Chicago Bears forum and came across a play that was described in detail on the board about McClellin. Inspiration took hold and I wanted to go look up the play on the All-22 and see precisely how it all went down. The basics of it McClellin was in a stand up linebacker role and ran down the middle of the field with Jason Witten the Cowboys' tight end.
More importantly this play demonstrates a few things, one how a defense can fool a quarterback on a pre-snap read by disguising what they're doing.
Second it demonstrates how the Bears are willing to be creative but also will utilize their weapons to rush the passer.
Third it shows how McClellin, at least for one play can run down the middle of the field in man to man coverage against Jason Witten.
So to cut to the All-22 tape this play is Charles Tillman's interception return for a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in week 4. On the play it's in the second quarter, 3:07 left in the half with the Bears leading 3-0.
In this first All-22 Tape image you have the Bears showing their pre-snap read to Tony Romo. The coverage in the secondary, is a base Cover-2 look with three down linemen a nickel back and Shea McClellin and Brian Urlacher mugging a blitz look to the strong side (red) with Lance Briggs mugging a blitz look to the weak-side (blue). Jennings is to the near side of the image in a soft press man look, while Charles Tillman on the far side is in heavy press coverage.
As Romo calls out his cadence Jennings begins to back off the line into off coverage while Major Wright rotates to the middle of the field to play the single high safety role. Chris Conte runs up into the box and then lines up on the weak-side of the formation to blitz. Conte's movement is late in the signals so he doesn't see Conte coming up until he snaps the football at which point Conte has a running start.
The protections have already been predetermined before Conte makes his move to the line of scrimmage.
In this second image you can see where Wright has aligned himself, at the top of the defense, where Conte is and where Jennings is (far red arrow). The Bears show Cover-2 pre-snap, but completely change it up as Romo is calling his cadence. By the time Romo snaps the football, the Bears have completely changed what they're doing.
At the snap of the football Urlacher bails hard out wide to the weak-side (yellow line), McCellin (yellow line) goes man to man on the TE Witten down the center step for step (white line). Briggs and Conte blitz from the weak-side(red arrows). Romo's hot read is Whitten and he's not open with McClellin in coverage, and now Conte is bearing down on him and a QB is going to throw back across his body anyway not with heavy pressure. Romo panics and throws the football where Charles Tillman is waiting in lock step press man to man coverage. Tillman breaks on the ball, picks it off and is into the end-zone for six.
In the third image you can clearly see why GM Phil Emery selected McClellin in the first round. McClellin's ability to run down the middle of the defense step for step is key to this play. He's completely on the hip of Witten. This play demonstrates his ability as a linebacker and shows a role he's likely more comfortable in rather than sticking his hand in the dirt like a DE. There's nothing to say that McClellin can't be a pass rusher, but the Bears should be a lot more flexible with him rather than trying to make him play a position he's neither suited for nor comfortable playing.
Mel Tucker to this point is showing a willingness to do this with McClellin and a lot of other weapons the Bears have on defense. The Bears may still be a 4-3 team, but they will when they need to play a 3-3-5 nickel look, or a 3-4 look or a 4 defensive end look.