INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears understand Shea McClellin's importance to their defensive rebuilding project. Maximizing their 2012 first-round pick's production seems a necessity and a reasonable expectation for a unit that set a club record last season for most yards allowed.
General manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman aren't exactly hitting the reset button on McClellin's career by moving him from defensive end to strong-side linebacker, but it's clear they're confident the move will tap McClellin's potential and turn him into the type of disruptive playmaker who the Bears hope can help restore their defense.
"Shea is really excited about the opportunity to get off the ball, to be able to run and do some things," Trestman said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine. "That doesn't mean Shea won't be a pass rusher. With his skill set, his speed, I'm really excited to see how this thing evolves with him."
Emery considers McClellin to be the Bears' most disruptive pass rusher, but he has struggled through two seasons to finish his rushes with sacks. He has only 61/2 in 28 career games.
Perhaps a move to strong-side linebacker will position McClellin to excel against the run and exploit his speed. He still can rush the passer in appropriate situations. That's Emery's thinking, at least.
He remembers how McClellin stood out at Boise State partly because of his ability to play standing up and in space as well as lining up with his hand on the ground. Without having to engage an offensive tackle immediately after the snap, he could read, react and create favorable angles in pursuit.
"We see it every day on the practice field," Emery said. "We see it on the game field. (Vikings running back) Adrian Peterson isn't used much in the passing game, but he was one-on-one with him. He had no trouble covering him. The guy has very good hips, very good quickness, very good speed for his position."
Emery also likes McClellin's size. He is listed at 6 foot 3, and Emery expects him to play next season at approximately 250 pounds.
"He will be our biggest linebacker," Emery said. "So that gives him versatility, along with that subset of athleticism and speed."
McClellin has said he will play happily wherever the team asks him - strong-side linebacker with some middle linebacker mixed in.
Jon Bostic, last year's second-round pick, will compete with McClellin at both spots. Those two also will contend with outside linebacker Khaseem Greene. And if the Bears follow through with the interest they have expressed in re-signing D.J. Williams, and/or add another player in free agency or the draft, the competition should be of high quality.
Emery has faith McClellin will force his way onto the field with his athleticism. If he does, Emery expects a significant step forward for the whole defense.
"His versatility is his strength," Emery said. "Generally, we'll take calculated risks, which we did (drafting) Shea. When we swing, we're going to swing on the high side of athleticism. And that's why we're still excited about him being able to contribute at a high level."