Thursday, July 19, 2012

Shea McClellin and Speculation

I am no expert on professional football. As a sports publisher, I have authors who are the experts. But I do look at different sports developments as a fan and try to make sense of them.

Stories on the NFL draft are always intriguing because fans like to see who is out there. They like to have some idea of which players their team may draft and they also like to test their own ability to forecast the future. But if you have been around the block a few times, you have to know that the guys who get paid to select draft picks are a lot smarter than the guys who get paid to write about the draft picks.

Sports Writers Versus Sports Managers. The fact is that if a sports writer says something stupid it's probably not going to resurface over and over again. On the other hand, if someone makes a bad draft pick, that choice is going to take the field and play before the cameras. A good or bad draft decision is revisited when pundits examine the strengths and weaknesses of player personnel and how it got that way.

Many sports fans know that Babe Ruth was dealt to the Yankees by Boston. But few people other than some odd sports scholar can talk about a poor sports story of the era. There were people who thought Babe Ruth should have kept pitching. In sports writing, a lot of stupid things are written one day and forgotten the next. Fans can contribute to the mountain of discourse via blogs and comments.

Who Has the Inside Scoop? There is so much those outside a team's inner circle don't know. Owners, managers and coaches are not going to let sportswriters in on everything. When a team selects a first round draft pick, how the coaches and managers respond to questions about that selection may have a real impact on any player in the same position. Once a first round selection is made, sports reporters are all over the story and write about the pick from every angle. Team Management may want to be diplomatic and help manage the fears of an existing player, particularly if he has played very well the previous season. There are always going to be doubts about a player's contribution for the next season, but the coach or manager who expresses those doubts to the press may be sorry about its impact on the veteran player. On the other hand, in some cases the player may need a fire lit under him to get up to speed and be at his best.

Bear Top Draft Pick. First, let me just say that you've got to love Sheamus McClellin's story although in its outline it's not uncommon. Basically, a very young mother bears a child when she is practically a child herself. Very strong grandparents provide a good solid upbringing insisting on hard work and discipline. McClellin takes nothing for granted and wants nothing that is not earned. He loves his grandparents and wants to help them. He is a small town kid from the west.

McClellin is 6'3" tall and weighs in at about 260 lbs. He has Urlacher-in-his-prime speed. He loves to mix it up and those who watched his performance in the NFL combine, state that he is mobile and agile. It would appear that he has the goods to help improve the Bears pass rush and he is slotted as another defensive end although he is undersized for that position. Some think he may one day play linebacker. But the prototype end and linebacker are very much in flux today as teams use different defensive schemes that require different physical attributes.

Pass Rushing Stars Shine Today. On all NFL defenses today, there is a super premium paid for pass-rushers. Pass rushers are now determined to make the biggest impact on defense because they disrupt the passing game. If the quarterback is rushed, life is not so hard on the rest of the defense--the backs are not challenged so often with longer pass patterns and longer more complex offensive plays are impossible to carryout when the QB is on his butt.

Julius Peppers (1st round-2nd pick overall)was a free agent the Bears picked up from Carolina and he has been everything a Bears fan could want in a pass rusher. But the Bears would love to have more of a bookend defensive end threat with another premium pass rusher. They are looking for someone to be as effective as Mark Anderson was early in his career for the Bears. They would also like to have a three defensive ends rotation that can keep the heat on the opposing team and conserve the strength of their aging superstar Peppers.

Israel Idonije (undrafted--he played college ball in Canada) has showed great talent over the course of his career and at times he was unstoppable. Bear coaches and fans may be thinking that with so much extra effort being used to block Peppers, whoever plays the other side ought to have a lot of sacks. The Bears like Corey Wooten (4th round), but he has been bitten by injuries in his short career. Chauncy Davis (4th round) is a 29-year old who provided the Bears with some veteran skills and talents. Thaddeus Gibson(4th round) is a young player who will have to win a spot in camp this year. The Bears will not beat teams with their defense if Peppers is not leading a superb pass rush. Shea McClellin tossed into this mix of defensive ends should help either improve the current performance level or backup teammates if trouble brews. Teams always have to be transitioning from today's talented players to tomorrow's. But part of the trick is to make that happen in a healthy way.

Linebackers Forever. Transition in the Bears' linebacker core is another potential problem. Just as Peppers and Idonije are over 30 years old, so are linebackers Brian Urlacher (34 years old) and Lance Briggs (31 years old). No one is looking for Urlacher or Briggs to hang up their cleats any time soon. Nick Roach has been very steady and Bear coaches have praised Roach as someone who can play inside or outside. The Bears picked up a young(24 years old) talent-proven linebacker in Geno Hayes from Tampa Bay--they would not have had to do that if they were confident in the backup talent that they had. It could not have helped the young linebackers on the team to have lost so much of the preseason last year due to the labor impasse.

Dom DeCicco is someone the Bears seem to like as a middle linebacker and his play on special teams gives him an edge in keeping a roster spot. Like Urlacher, he was not a linebacker in college, rather he played defensive back and can cover well on passes. He is 6'4", but perhaps a little light for the middle position.

Of course, few Bear fans are anxious to see the Bears replacing talents like Urlacher and Peppers. These two players are considered to be freaks of nature even in professional football. Fans have always marveled at Urlacher's combination of speed and strength that has allowed him to cover on pretty much any play an offense can throw his way. Peppers amazes fans with his ability to take punishment and spin past two or three blockers at time to pressure a quarterback from every conceivable angle and position on the field. Replacing these players is a little like replacing Walter Payton, it is something that might just never happen, but you take your shot.

Enter Shea McClellin. But what is the long term view of Shea McClellin. Some scouts have said that once McClellin finds a spot on an NFL team, he will remain there for 10 plus years. I suspect that the Bears are comfortable with having McClellin on the squad, seeing his strength increase, his skills honed and evaluating his talent and future abilities--as long as he contributes at the same time! McClellin's first-round value may be in the fact that he can play at end--contribute to the pass rush and alternatively, he might get tossed into the linebacker pool down the road. Perhaps, the defensive coaches will see more Brian Urlacher than Julius Peppers in the young man from Idaho. Of course, it's not all up to McClellin, there are a number of other players who preside ahead of him on the depth chart. All in all, it looks like McClellin will make a very interesting year for Bears fans even more interesting.

Despite the fact that a lot of sports writers complain that the Bears have not given enough thought to a possible replacement for Urlacher and likewise complain that some pass rush assistance is needed for Peppers, the Bears have a new kid on the block who is likely going to help in one of those areas. Of course, regardless of whether McClellin remains at end or gets moved to linebacker, neither Peppers nor Urlacher are likely to lose an sleep over it. But in a couple years...
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books. Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout is a personal chronicle of Chicago Bears Senior Director Patrick McCaskey that looks back at decades of spiritual enrichment and life lessons from athletes, coaches, religious and everyday people. McCaskey recalls the stories of those who strived to make the cut on and off the field—plus people who left comfortable lives to serve the under-served in extraordinary ways. Order online.