It's no secret that the downfall of the 2013 Chicago Bears was their defense. They ranked 30th in total defense, allowing an average of 394.6 yards per game. Despite being a respectable 15th against the pass, they were dead last against the run, allowing 161.4 rushing yards per game.
Injuries decimated the team's depth, ending the seasons of defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nick Collins, cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Charles Tillman, and linebacker D.J. Williams.
This forced rookie linebackers and defensive tackles to play starters' minutes at times this year.
As noted by Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald, general manager Phil Emery was quick to point out at his year-end press conference that the defense needs to fixed. "We want a physical, fast, play-making defense — a defense that causes disruption," he said.
Disruption was not one of the Bears' strong suits in 2013, as they finished tied for last with the Jacksonville Jaguars with just 31 sacks. Julius Peppers led the team in sacks with 7.5, but looked like a shell of his former self, often disappearing for games at a time this season.
Tied for second on the team with four sacks (along with linebacker James Anderson) was Shea McClellin.
The majority of McClellin's production came against the Green Bay Packers in Week 9, as he accumulated three sacks, including one that forced Aaron Rodgers to miss the next seven games with a broken collarbone.
Other than his productive day against the Packers in Week 9, McClellin has been nothing short of a disappointment in Chicago after being drafted 19th overall in the 2012 NFL draft.
In 28 career games, he has compiled 44 total tackles and just 6.5 sacks. Chandler Jones, who was picked two spots after McClellin by New England, has 124 total tackles, four forced fumbles and 17.5 sacks in 30 career games.
It is easy to look back in retrospect and find someone who was drafted later that had a more productive season, but Emery has admitted that the Bears have not used McClellin to the best of his abilities.
"What we have to do with Shea is find ways to use the unique talents and skills of the players that we have," Emery told Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. "Putting him at defensive end, that's on me, not giving him the ultimate opportunity to succeed."
The Bears did not fully come out and say that McClellin was going to make the move to linebacker, but according to what Marc Trestman said during that press conference, it is likely coming:
Shea is capable of more and it's our job and our responsibility as coaches to get that out of him, and we're going to do everything we can to do that. We'll look hard at Shea doing other things besides being lined up at defensive end. If that means moving him to a linebacker position as we move forward, that will be under consideration as well.
It is not as if McClellin has no skill at all, but the Bears have not put him in the best positions to succeed.
Scouting reports praised his athleticism and agility as well as his effort coming out of Boise State, but CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler noted in his scouting report that McClellin "lacks a natural position for the next level and won't be at his best if he's locked into one spot."
During his first two seasons, the Bears tried to force McClellin into something he is not: purely a hand-in-the-ground, 4-3 defensive end. They have used him at times as a stand-up linebacker (pictured below against Dallas in 2012), but despite looking more natural at that position, they've forced him to try and set the edge against the run and have set him up to fail.
So what can the Bears do to put him in the best position to succeed?
This past Sunday, the team announced that it would be parting ways with linebacker coach Tim Tibesar and defensive line coach Mike Phair, but would retain defensive coordinator Mel Tucker for the 2014 season.
Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune shared Trestman's thoughts on Tucker:
We believe Mel is the right person to lead our defensive unit. He fully understands where we need to improve, has the skill set and leadership to oversee the changes that need to be made and to execute our plan to get the results we know are necessary.
With Tucker still in the mix, there is still some speculation on what defense the team will run in 2014. Other than Emery's comments on wanting the defense to be fast and physical, there has not been much said about the team making a switch to a 3-4 defense.
If the team were to make that move to a 3-4 defense, McClellin would likely assume the role of a pass-rushing outside linebacker.
Considering the pieces—or lack thereof—that the Bears have on defense, though, a full shift to a 3-4 might not be doable in 2014.
All around the league, hybrid defenses are becoming the new fad, with the Seattle Seahawks likely running the best-known hybrid defense. This setup allows for the team to use both 4-3 and 3-4 alignments, causing confusion for the opposing offense.
The Seahawks have been so effective in recent years due to the tremendous amount of talent that is on the field, from the talent and depth along the defensive line to the "Legion of Boom" secondary, which is known for its terrific pass coverage and sensational hits.
One reason for the team's ability to get to the quarterback has been the play of the "Leo" linebacker in Pete Carroll's scheme.
According to Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com, Carroll describes the Leo linebacker as “a position that can take on different sizes and shapes, but it is a spot – a little bit of a hybrid position – that is kind of a linebacker, kind of a defensive end. We picture it as a speed-oriented guy.”
The Seahawks deploy the Leo linebacker, who can play with his hand in the ground or standing up (circled below) in their 4-3 under look. The position is designed almost purely for a pass-rushing specialist.
The idea is that the Leo linebacker helps create confusion by standing up or keeping his hand in the ground. He can also move around before the snap.
Chris Clemons has been the most successful at that position, racking up 33.5 sacks from 2010 to 2012 before suffering an ACL injury and missing some time earlier this season. The Seahawks have used O'Brien Schofield and Bruce Irvin in that role as well this season, but they haven't had the sustained success that Clemons has.
In terms of measurables, Clemons and McClellin are very similar, with Clemons measuring in at 6'3" and 254 pounds while McClellin is 6'3" and 260 pounds.
At this point, 10 years into his career, Clemons has become a much more refined pass-rusher. However, he did not find success until 2010 with the Seahawks after spending his first six seasons with three different teams (Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles).
At his press conference, Emery commented on how guys with similar skill sets as McClellin—like Rob Ninkovich, Jason Babin and Jerry Hughes—found success later in their careers with teams that didn't draft them.
“What I want for Shea is for it not to take that long. For us to find that role. Not for the Patriots or the Bills or the Jaguars or the Eagles to find those roles, but for us,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times' Patrick Finley.
Is the Leo role best-suited to fit McClellin's skill set? Possibly, but the biggest thing will be finding a new position coach for the linebackers—as well as the defensive line—that can get the most out of the talent that is there with McClellin.
He will need to become a much more consistent pass-rusher by working on getting stronger and developing a better counter move.
If the team is more set on a traditional linebacker role for McClellin, he would likely be competing for the strong-side linebacker job that was held by James Anderson in 2013. He is due to become a free agent.
McClellin will have to show that he has the ability to fight through traffic to make stops against the run and show that he has the ability to occasionally cover tight ends down the field.
Regardless of the role the Bears decide to use McClellin in, 2014 will be a big year for him to prove that Emery made the right move by selecting him 19th overall in 2012.