The Chicago Bears defense had its ups and downs in 2011, ultimately leading to a mediocre year for Brian Urlacher and company. The Bears hope to be title contenders this season, and Shea McClellin may hold the key to their success.
The Bears were in the middle of the pack in both total yards and points allowed on defense last season, and with a boost from McClellin, they can become one of the best units in the NFC. Coupled with a rejuvenated and extremely talented offense, the Bears can compete for the NFC North crown.
The Bears defense showed signs of slowing down last season, but they stepped up when needed and forced enough turnovers to show they were still a force to be reckoned with in the NFC North. The team ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing defense, giving up just 96.4 yards per game.
However, 2012 means the defense gets yet another year older. Brian Urlacher is 34 and entering his 13th year in the NFL. Valuable starters such as Israel Idonije, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs are all past their 31st birthdays.
The Bears need a young, high-motor player who can be a playmaker from sideline to sideline. Shea McClellin, the team's first-round pick in April's draft, is exactly that. He will revitalize the defense and become the key to its success in 2012.
His versatility is one of his biggest strengths, as he can play successfully as a defensive end or at the outside linebacker position. McClellin also has tremendous instincts, which helped him accumulate 16.5 sacks over his last two seasons at Boise State.
Defending the Pass
Though the Bears were one of the best in the league against the run last season, they ranked near the bottom in pass defense, allowing 254.1 yards per game. In a division with two of the top passing offenses in the NFL, the Bears need to find a way to stifle the air attack.
The secondary will look very similar to what the Bears had last season, but putting more pressure on the quarterback can help out their defensive backs significantly. The team was in the bottom half of the league with 33 sacks last season.
McClellin can come in and instantly improve the pass rush. At 6'3" and 255 pounds, he doesn't have size like Julius Peppers, but he possesses great speed. He finished second among defensive ends in the 40-yard dash in this year's scouting combine.
Adding another talented pass-rusher will create even more turnover opportunities for this defense and give players like Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers a lot less time to throw. If the pass defense can step it up this season, the Bears will have one of the best all-around teams in the NFC.
The most important aspect of McClellin's arrival, and by far the most exciting thing to think about, is his pairing with Julius Peppers.
Who will win the NFC North in 2012?
Peppers is one of the best players in the NFL at his position and had a team-high 11 sacks in 2011.
Even with his solid production, Peppers is often double-teamed at the line and forced out of the play. The offense can afford to do this because veteran Israel Idonije is much less of a threat on the other end and can be blocked with one man.
Shea McClellin changes everything.
His explosiveness and ability are much more comparable to Peppers. The offensive line will have to pick their poison with a talented rusher on both sides. If they double one, the other gets a one-on-one matchup. If they both get blocked, it frees up the middle for Henry Melton, who had seven sacks last year, and blitzing linebackers.
Rod Marinelli, the Bears defensive coordinator, will have a bunch of pieces to play with in the defense's front seven in order to create problems for the opposing offense. Rodgers and Stafford can't win games if they don't have time to throw. The Bears defensive line will be the key to success this season, and Shea McClellin is a major reason why.