Heading into the 2012 season, Bears defensive end Corey Wootton was known for one thing: getting the sack that essentially ended Brett Favre's career. This season though, Wootton has shown Bears fans he is more than just an answer to a trivia question. In five games this season, he has 3.5 sacks as well as two forced fumbles.
During his junior year at Northwestern he was viewed by many as a potential first-round draft pick before injuring his knee in the Alamo Bowl. His senior season was marred with inconsistent play, and he dropped to the Bears in the fourth-round of the 2010 draft.
Wootton's lone sack prior to this season was in the Week 15 contest to Favre and the Vikings in 2010. He failed to stay healthy in 2011 with an injury to his knee in the preseason and a wrist injury later in the year.
At 6'7" and 260 pounds, Wootton has a tremendous combination of size and speed and has been able to beat his defenders off the snap with his great jump. Sunday in Jacksonville he was able to get a good read on tackle Cameron Bradfield and beat him twice for sacks as well as forcing a fumble.
Wootton has a tendency to rush too deep at times and is still considered a work in progress, but he has benefited greatly from being a part of a Bears defensive line rotation that has 17 sacks on the year. His abilities in stopping the run haven't gotten him as much praise as his newfound pass-rushing abilities have, but he does a good job with staying home and getting after the runner.
Not to be outdone by Wootoon, rookie Shea McClellin has made major strides from a player who some were panicked about during training camp to a viable defensive end in the Bears rotation. Through the first five games, he has two sacks, tied for fourth amongst all rookies.
After being selected 19th in the 2012 draft, some were speculative about his abilities to be an effective defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. While at Boise State, McClellin spent a lot of time moving around as he was used as both a defensive end with his hand in the ground and a standup outside linebacker.
The Bears have utilized his athleticism at times this year, using him in what they like to call the "Boise Package" (h/t CSN.com) where McClellin is in a two-point stance and has the ability to either rush the passer or drop back into coverage. He has seen a lot of his snaps in the Bears nickel package when they like to move Julius Peppers to the inside along with Henry Melton and bring pressure with Israel Idonije and himself on the outside.
McClellin still has a lot of areas that he needs to improve. He has relied solely on his spin move to beat offensive tackles, and eventually the league will catch on to that. His strength will be something that he will continue to work on into the future and will need to be addressed for him to improve moving forward.
Whenever a defensive line is as deep as the Bears' is, it is difficult for players to get sustainable playing time and must make the most of their opportunities when they present themselves. Through the first five games this season, both Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin have proven they have the ability to not only contribute to one of the best defensive lines in football but have the chance to become major factors as the season goes on.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work on BleacherReport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.