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Bears believe pass rush improved with McClellin choice

The Sports Xchange
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The Bears did nothing to improve the offensive line that has failed the past two seasons to protect quarterback Jay Cutler.

However, new general manager Phil Emery, in his first time running a draft, addressed the lack of pass-rush pressure by taking Shea McClellin in the first round. While the 6-3 1/2, 260-pound McClellin may be a bit of a tweener, he has a track record for getting after the quarterback. Round 2 brought another weapon for Cutler in big receiver Alshon Jeffery, who could be special; and in Round 4 Emery gambled on character concern tight end Evan Rodriguez, who is undersized but a talented pass catcher. For the eighth straight year the Bears drafted a safety, but 6-3, 220-pound Brandon Hardin must be converted from cornerback.

BEST PICK

Wider receiver Alshon Jeffery. The big knock on the big pass catcher was that Jeffery couldn't run a lick. But the Bears clocked him at 4.47 at his Pro Day, and they believe he possesses almost every other trait needed to become an impact player, especially in the red zone.

COULD SURPRISE

Safety Brandon Hardin. At 6-3 and 220 pounds, he had the athleticism to play cornerback at Oregon State, but he projects to strong safety and has the toughness, size and tackling ability to thrive there. Had he not missed the entire 2011 season with a fractured shoulder, Hardin would have been a much hotter prospect, and the Bears are assured that he is 100 percent healthy.

A closer look at the Bears' picks:

Round 1/19 - Shea McClellin, DE, 6-3, 260, Boise State

Bears believe he provides the best chance to immediately upgrade a pass rush that was 29th last season. Played defensive end and linebacker past two seasons, when he had 16.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss. Ran a 4.63 40, second fastest among defensive ends at the Combine. Hard-working, football smart, technically sound, quickly finds the football.

Round 2/45 - Alshon Jeffery, WR, 6-3, 216, South Carolina

Bears traded up five spots to make sure they got the highest rated player on their board at 45. Had huge sophomore season in 2010 (88 catches, 1,517 yards, 17.2-yard average, nine touchdowns), but production plummeted last season (49-762-15.6-8). Great red-zone production (23 career touchdowns). Excels at competing for jump balls and adjusting to the ball.

Round 3/79 - Brandon Hardin, S, 6-3, 220, Oregon State

Missed the 2011 season with a fractured shoulder that required season-ending surgery, although he returned to play in the East-West Shrine Game. Has been cleared medically by the Bears. Started 12 games at cornerback as a junior in 2010, but the Bears will play him at strong safety. High marks for physical, aggressive tackling.

Round 4/111 - Evan Rodriguez, TE, 6-2, 244, Temple

Undersized, athletic pass-catching tight end had 35 receptions last season for 479 yards, averaging 13.7 yards per catch with two touchdowns. Started 28 games at Temple after transferring from West Virginia. Off-the-field issues. Arrested for assault in '07 and disorderly conduct in April '09. Good speed (4.56) and a natural pass catcher with good body control and smooth movement skills to adjust to the ball in the air.

Round 6/184 - Isaiah Frey, CB, 5-11, 188, Nevada

Had five interceptions and a national-best 21 pass breakups as a senior. Three-year starter. Does not play a physical game and has unrefined footwork. Has good closing speed but gives too much cushion in coverage. Solid 40-yard dash time (4.46) at pro day.

Round 7/220 - Greg McCoy, CB/KR, 5-10, 181, Texas Christian

Led the Mountain West and was sixth in the nation with a 30.6-yard kickoff-return average in 2011, when he had 94- and 99-yard returns for touchdowns. Started all 13 games at cornerback each of the last two seasons. Ran a 4.44 40 at his pro day.

--It wasn't until late in the predraft process that Boise State's defensive end/outside linebacker Shea McClellin was even mentioned as a possible first-round draft choice.

But the Bears thought enough of the versatile, high-motor pass rusher to make him the 19th overall pick, confident that he had the ability to immediately upgrade their pass rush, which was 29th last season.

McClellin is a bit undersized at 6-3 1/2 and 260 pounds, but he gets high marks for athleticism, and he had 16.5 sacks over the past two seasons and 26 tackles for loss. The Bears chose him over Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who led the nation in 2011 with 16 sacks, and ahead of offensive linemen Riley Reiff of Iowa and David DeCastro of Stanford. Reiff went 23rd to the Lions, DeCastro 24th to the Steelers and Mercilus 26th to the Texans.

"We were looking for a guy who could contribute right away," said Phil Emery, of his first-ever draft pick as the Bears' general manager. "He fills a need as a pass rusher, but he has all-down ability. He finds the ball quickly and gets through blockers.

"We considered almost every position, but we felt he was one of the better pass rushers (in the draft)."

Many draft experts considered McClellin a reach in the first round, although his popularity skyrocketed as Draft Day approached. Pro Football Weekly's Draft Preview projected him as a third- or fourth-round pick, but in the week before the draft he was mentioned more and more frequently as a first-round pick because of his pass-rush ability.

"I think that's why they picked me up," McClellin said. "I think I'll be able to get after the quarterback."

The Bears hope so, considering they finished 29th in sack percentage last season.

The three-year starter at Boise State benched 225 pounds just 19 times at the Combine, but he got positive marks for character, work habits, smarts and a high-revving motor.

Emery praised McClellin for his instincts and leverage and said he has the ability to set the edge as a left end vs. the run.

"He's a small-town guy with great character," Emery said. "He has a relentless motor. He's an excellent pick for us."

To earn the starting job at left end, opposite Pro Bowl right end Julius Peppers, McClellin will have to beat out incumbent Israel Idonije, who at 6-6 and 275 pounds is adept at stopping the run. But Idonije had just 5.0 sacks last season, and McClellin possesses the potential to at least contribute as a situational pass rusher as a rookie. But the Bears feel there's a lot more to his game.

"This is an all-downs football player, including special teams," Emery said. "Our special teams coaches gave him a blue level (highest) grade as a special teams player. We are excited about him for several reasons: He's got really quick feet and hands as a pass rusher, he has natural hips as a pass rusher. In his role, his normal starting role at Boise, was as a (middle) linebacker and he would come down and rush on third down or in sub-package situations so there's a lot of versatility to this player."

Teams that play a 3-4 defense looked at McClellin as a linebacker, but Emery said he will play left end for the Bears, although he has the versatility to play either end spot or linebacker, which he did at Boise State.

"I don't have a preference," McClellin said. "I can be a threat from both (end and linebacker). Wherever the Bears want me to play, I'm happy to do it. I think my versatility definitely helped me out -- being able to play multiple positions and play them well."

The 22-year-old McClellin grew up on a farm in Caldwell, Idaho. At Marsing High School as a baseball player he hit .453, and he averaged 16.7 points and 11.6 rebounds in basketball.

He was asked if chasing chickens on the farm compares to chasing NFL quarterbacks.

"Well, you have to have agility to chase chickens," he said, "so I guess it's similar."

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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