Two years of imprisonment are over at last for Shea McClellin of the Chicago Bears as he’s on the move from defensive end to linebacker. The good news for the team and fans? History has a long record of success with such moves.
Mel Tucker convinced McClellin is a more natural fit at linebacker
Ever since he was drafted 19th overall in 2012, many wondered if the best thing for the Bears to do was at least give Boise State product Shea McClellin a glance at linebacker before shifting him to defensive end as planned. Unfortunately the presence of veteran stars Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher soured that idea. McClellin did notch 2.5 sacks but struggled with injuries his first year. Then a season ago he again attempted to make himself into a classic 4-3 end but his lack of ideal size and bulk haunted the Bears all season, especially defending the run. So when the time came for evaluation, the top heads decided it was time to give the 24-year old his shot at linebacker.
He worked all off-season to prepare, dropping weight (266 to 253 lbs) and gaining speed (4.7 to 4.5 in 40-yard dash). Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker noticed the improvements right away, and stated he is “super confident” the young defender will make a successful transition. He has the athleticism and movement skills for it and being the biggest linebacker instead of the smallest defensive end doesn’t hurt either. So is there reason for optimism according to NFL history regarding such a position switch?
Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers offer examples of success
Projecting players where a coach wants them to go is never a great idea and history in the NFL proves it. In 1975, the Dallas Cowboys took Randy White with their first round pick. White was an All-American defensive lineman at Maryland but at 257 lbs was considered too light for the position in the pros. That is why head coach Tom Landry moved him to middle linebacker, hoping his speed and ferocity would unveil the next Dick Butkus. White disappointed him, failing to crack the starting lineup and playing mostly on special teams. Some started to consider him a bust. Landry subsequently chose to give White a chance at his college position of defensive tackle. That year in 1977 White went All-Pro, the first of nine such honors and the Cowboys won the Super Bowl.
The San Francisco 49ers also have compelling evidence of letting nature take its course. In 1991 they selected a defensive back named Merton Hanks in the fifth round. The hope was he could give them some help at cornerback but pedestrian 40-yard dash times hinted that was not the best course of action. After three seasons at nickel corner, which was a less desired position than it is today, the 49ers finally shifted him to become their full-time free safety in 1994. Hanks ended up with seven interceptions that year, made his first of four-straight Pro Bowls and helped his team win their fifth Lombardi trophy.
The point is a talented player can succeed in the NFL if he’s put in the right position. If linebacker is where Shea McClellin truly belongs, then the Chicago Bears can feel confident that success will follow.