Chicago Bears fans are starting to catching on that rookie defensive end Shea McClellin is not an every down base DE. So now Bears fans have it in mind that McClellin could be the eventual replacement for Brian Urlacher. That talk was a part of the discussion prior to Urlacher's injury and has exploded into the pantheon of discussion with Urlacher's possible season-ending hamstring injury.
The problem is Shea McClellin is no more a middle linebacker than he is defensive end in a 4-3 defense. McClellin is capable of decent zone drops, but he's not going to cover the deep middle in the Bears Cover-2 scheme.
What evidence do we have to support McClellin's inability to play the MIKE spot? McClellin lacks the sideline to sideline range that a good middle linebacker should have. McClellin is fast, but he does not move well laterally and it showed up when he tried to shadow Russell Wilson in the game against the Seattle Sehawks.
The Bears were smart to try and shadow Wilson with McClellin, because Wilson was beating the Bears with his ability to get outside the pocket and extend the play. Time and again Wilson was able to make plays with his feet on the final drive of the game.
The answer was to try and use McClellin as a spy, and while it seemed to work for two plays there were to other more glaring plays that are cause for problems.
First the two "successful" plays McClellins drops back after mugging the line and then shadows Wilson, Wilson scans the field but never makes an attempt to break contain.
The next two plays are key plays on the drive that wind up with the Seahawks scoring the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
This first play as you can see McClellin mugs the line again and at the snap of the ball drops back to shadow Wilson again. As McClellin is standing back in his small zone drop, Wilson breaks contain, but not before McClellin takes two false steps before reversing direction to give chase.
Precisely why McClellin decides take his two steps in the other direction, is a mystery, but as a result of these false steps, Wilson scrambles away and even with the angle of pursuit Wilson completes a 27-yard pass to set up first and goal for the Seahawks.
On the next play McClellin drops with Urlacher into linebacker zone coverage. His zone drop away from the line of scrimmage is much slower than Urlacher's drop. That the first thing I notice watching him in his back pedal. He does maintain decent of the crossing receiver on the play.
Where the play goes wrong however is when Golden Tate catches a dump off pass and then somehow finds the end-zone. McClellin has the proper, and even has the chance to square up directly on Tate to make the tackle to prevent him from getting into the end-zone. Instead McClellin simply tries to lunge and shove Tate down. Tate bounces off the effort and scrambles into the end-zone for the touchdown.
Now by no means am I trying to assign blame on McClellin for the Seahawks victory. Wilson's success came against the Bears defense with both McClellin off the field and when he was on the field. Wilson's best success came in the run game with the zone-read option that had both Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije breaking contain, and getting out for their gaps in pursuit of Lynch. Both Peppers and Idonije played horribly in the run game and Wilson had success as a result.
My immediate thoughts here are McClellin has limited range and open field ability as a linebacker. He is a one-dimensional pass rusher first and foremost and a bit of a 3-4 edge setter as an OLB. I don't see him with the ability to make plays in the run game unless it's between the tackles in a 5-yard box area.
Could he develop into a middle linebacker? Maybe, if he worked at it for three years he could be a decent middle linebacker some day. But in order to get to that point, he would have to develop some open field awareness, lateral ability in pursuit and be able to make tackles in the open field. Being able to break down on a ball-carrier in the open field is a key skill for any linebacker to have, and at this stage of his career, McClellin doesn't have the open field ability necessary to replace Urlacher this year, or next year.