Chicago Bears: Shea McClellin

The Chicago Bears convene one last time before taking a break as they await the start of training camp in July with Tuesday's beginning of a three-day minicamp at Halas Hall.

Here are some storylines to keep an eye on at minicamp:

Palmer
Palmer's injury situation: Jordan Palmer strained a pectoral muscle on his throwing side during organized team activities, calling it "a nothing injury," while saying it's "more frustrating than anything." Still, the injury resulted in the team taking a cautious approach with Palmer during OTAs. The quarterback should be out on the field Tuesday taking repetitions at minicamp, which is important considering Palmer is in the beginning stages of what should turn out to be an interesting competition for the primary backup gig behind Jay Cutler.

Palmer came into the offseason as the favorite to win the job because, while not impossible, it's not likely that rookie David Fales would unseat the veteran for the No. 2 job. Chicago's signing of veteran Jimmy Clausen, however, adds intrigue and increased competition to the situation. So Palmer needs to heal in order to be 100 percent ready for perhaps the most important competition of his NFL career. He's got to be cautious, however, and not rush back into action. After minicamp concludes, Palmer will have plenty of time to heal up. So if Palmer feels any discomfort in that strained pectoral muscle, he shouldn't hesitate to shut it down.

Clausen
Clausen's repetitions/performance: If Clausen gains a level of command with Chicago's playbook, he'll be a formidable competitor to Palmer, Fales, and Jerrod Johnson for the primary backup job. Clausen basically took a crash course in the team's system during organized team activities. But Clausen should be well-versed enough in the offense by now to really be able to show what he can do. It's likely the staff gives Clausen plenty of reps throughout this three-day minicamp, and he needs to make the most of them.

The Bears signed Clausen because they liked his experience, football smarts, and mental toughness. During Clausen's workout for the team, he threw an accurate ball with plenty of spin on it. Now, he'll need to show those attributes consistently enough to give the staff confidence that he can be a legitimate contender for the No. 2 job.

With five quarterbacks already on the roster, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Bears let one go after minicamp.

Cutler
Cutler's command of the offense: Cutler is expected to speak to the media after Tuesday's session, and we should be able to get a feel for how comfortable he's become operating Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer's offense. Cutler performed well last season, which marked his first year playing in that system. So in Year 2, Cutler should be pretty much an expert at executing the scheme. In addition to the experience gained in 2013, Cutler worked diligently throughout the offseason with his teammates on offense to sharpen execution. Cutler has also worked hand in hand with Trestman and Kromer to further develop the playbook based on what he's comfortable doing, and what the offense as a whole does well. That should translate into more efficient execution.

So how Cutler operates during minicamp will be watched closely; especially competitive the periods of practice, which pit the starters on offense and defense against one another.

Brock Vereen: A fourth-round pick from Minnesota, Vereen made the most of his reps during OTAs as veterans Chris Conte and Craig Steltz were sidelined with injuries. Vereen took all the first-team reps at free safety opposite free-agent acquisition Ryan Mundy during the club's last OTA open to the media, with M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray taking the second-team reps.

"I wouldn't say [I'm] shocked [about taking reps with the starters], but I know nothing is set," he said. "I'm just coming in and working hard. If that gets me on the field, then so be it. It's really starting to slow down for me out there. Now, I'm able to react rather than to have to think about it."

That bodes well for him. Vereen played almost every position in the secondary at Minnesota, but the Bears believe he's best suited to play free safety in the NFL. The club likes Vereen's versatility, and believes he's got the acumen, desire and football intelligence to quickly become a viable contributor.

Revamped front seven: The additions of Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen, and Willie Young in free agency, the selections of Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, and Shea McClellin's switch from defensive end to linebacker means there's quite a few moving parts in Chicago's revamped front seven. How it all meshes will be a major factor in the success of the entire defense.

Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea figure to be the team's starters at defensive tackle in minicamp with Houston and Allen manning the end spots. The starters at linebacker will likely be D.J. Williams in the middle with Lance Briggs and Jon Bostic playing the outside spots. More than likely, the Bears will go into the 2014 season with aforementioned as the starters in the front seven.

But players such as Ferguson, Sutton, Young and McClellin will take on key roles as rotational and situational contributors. McClellin is currently competing with Bostic for the starting job at Sam linebacker, but has also taken reps in the middle. If he's unable to win a starting job at linebacker, he'll still likely be used quite a bit as a pass-rusher in sub packages, as will Young. Ferguson and Sutton probably won't start, but they'll be counted on to take almost as many reps as Ratliff and Paea.

It will be interesting at minicamp to watch how the chemistry develops with all the new players in the front seven, as well as how the staff deploys them.

Observations: Vereen challenging at FS

June, 11, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Based on the organized team activities (OTA) portion of the Chicago Bears' offseason program, rookie fourth-round pick Brock Vereen looks to be a serious contender to earn a permanent place in the starting lineup.

[+] EnlargeBrock Vereen
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoBears safety Brock Vereen, who participated in the team's rookie minicamp in May, is adjusting to playing in the NFL.
Vereen took all the first-team reps at safety alongside free-agent signee Ryan Mundy on Wednesday, as veterans Chris Conte and Craig Steltz continue to be sidelined due to injuries. M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray handled the reps on the second team.

"I wouldn't say [I'm] shocked [by the starters reps], but I know nothing is set," Vereen said. "I'm just coming in and working hard. If that gets me on the field, then so be it.

"It's really starting to slow down for me out there. Now I'm able to react rather than to have to think about it."

Vereen played multiple defensive back positions in college for Minnesota, but appears best suited to line up at free safety in the NFL. Mundy is built like a strong safety at 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, but the safety spots are generally viewed as interchangeable.

Here are other observations from Wednesday's OTA, the final session open to the media:

• With Matt Slauson still recovering from shoulder surgery, Brian de la Puente worked with the starters at left guard. Many consider de la Puente to be the heir apparent to Roberto Garza at center, although the former New Orleans Saints starter signed only a one-year contract with the Bears in the offseason.

• Cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff were present this week after being absent from last week's open OTA to the media.

• The Bears' trio of linebackers in their base defense during the majority of team drills consisted of D.J. Williams (MLB), Lance Briggs (WLB) and Shea McClellin (SLB). However, both Williams and McClellin came off the field in the nickel package in favor of Jon Bostic.

• Rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller continued to run with the No. 1's in nickel as Tim Jennings mainly bumped inside to cover the slot with Tillman at the opposite cornerback spot.

Jay Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson in the end zone on back-to-back passes during a red zone drill. Marshall did have a couple drops over the course of the afternoon.

• Marshall did return a punt at one point on Wednesday.

• Reserve quarterback Jerrod Johnson saw action on special teams when he lined up as one of the two cornerbacks tasked with slowing down the gunner on punt return. Hard to remember a quarterback wearing the orange "off-limits" jersey ever participating on special teams before. But Johnson held up just fine during the drill and flashed some impressive speed trailing the gunner down the field.

• New quarterback Jimmy Clausen received fewer reps than Johnson and rookie David Fales, but the former Carolina Panther had some zip on the ball and seemed to have a decent understanding of the offense whenever he went under center.

• The Bears have one final OTA scheduled for Thursday in advance of the club's three-day veteran minicamp next week. Cutler is expected to meet the media next Tuesday for the first time since the start of the offseason in April.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Shea McClellin acknowledged after practice during Chicago Bears organized team activities Tuesday that his "first two years [in the NFL] weren't the greatest," but is hopeful a position switch to linebacker might lead to better results.

"I'm excited about the switch," McClellin said. "They told me they wanted me to play linebacker and I was fine with it. I think it's a good fit for me, so I'm going to try to show what I can do."

[+] EnlargeShea McClellin; David Bakhtiari
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesShea McClellin, drafted by the Bears in 2012, says he thinks "linebacker is a natural fit for me."
Selected with the 19th overall pick of the 2012 draft, McClellin joined the Bears hoping to make a mark solely as a pass-rushing defensive end after taking on a variety of roles in college at Boise State, where he racked up 20.5 sacks in 49 games. McClellin's monstrous production in college didn't transfer over to the NFL game. In two unremarkable seasons in Chicago, McClellin has posted 6.5 sacks and 36 tackles, leading to the position switch.

McClellin said he "anticipated they probably would" ask him to move to linebacker.

"My first two years weren't the greatest, but I think linebacker is a natural fit for me," McClellin said. "I think it's what I should be doing. As a player, you're going to do what they tell you to, and I was fine with playing D-end. They wanted me to rush the passer, and I think one of my strengths is rushing the passer. I was fine with it."

Wearing jersey No. 50, McClellin participated in Tuesday's workout operating mostly from the Sam position because starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams didn't attend the OTA session. With Williams out, Jonathan Bostic was forced to play middle linebacker while McClellin slid outside to Sam.

McClellin took in a few repetitions at middle linebacker with the second team. But he's expected to compete with Bostic during training camp for the starting job on the strong side. For the most part, McClellin looked natural Tuesday as a linebacker, and teammates believe he can successfully transition into his new role.

"Trying to rush off the edge and then go back to linebacker, that's a transition guys have got to make," defensive end Jared Allen said. "You see that so much throughout this league, and the cool part is that he's athletic enough to do it. I've watched guys go from middle linebacker to fullback. It's one of those things: the more you can do in this league, the longer you'll be around. Obviously, they feel he has worth coming back off the edge. For me, if I had to go to linebacker, I'd be cut, that's not happening: I'm a one position type of guy."

In the meeting rooms, McClellin sits next to perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs and has said the veteran players at the position have helped tremendously at easing the transition.

"He picks up things really fast. Being that he was in the defense before there's a lot of things and a lot of calls he's already familiar with," Briggs said. "He's an athletic linebacker and an athletic linebacker can play in this league. He's got speed. He's smart. Shea, size-wise, he could play Mike. Right now he's playing Sam. But I'm sure coach is probably going to move him around to see where his best fit is."

In preparation for the new role at linebacker, McClellin moved to California, where he spent 12 weeks in the offseason training with performance coach Scot Prohaska. McClellin lost 11 pounds and reduced his body fat by eight percent. When the team reported to Halas Hall for the start of the offseason program back in April, McClellin weighed 252 pounds and possessed 10 percent body fat.

The change prompted general manager Phil Emery to quip: "He looks like an extra from a Dolph Lundgren movie, doesn't he? He's looking good, looking trim and fit."

McClellin said the team wants him to stay between 245 and 250 pounds as a linebacker after playing last season at approximately 260 pounds as a defensive end. In a sense, for McClellin moving to linebacker is akin to returning home.

"Yeah, it's very natural," McClellin said. "The instincts are there and I've just got to work on the concepts, the routes, and it's good to have some guys out here to go against instead of just going against air. [I've] still got a lot to work on. I think I've got a lot to prove. I'm just gonna go out there and do the best I can."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery couldn’t resist cracking a smile on Thursday when responding to a question about converted linebacker Shea McClellin's new trimmed and toned offseason physique.

"He looks like an extra from a Dolph Lundgren movie, doesn't he?" Emery said. "He's looking good, looking trim and fit."

McClellin moved out to California for 12 weeks in the offseason to train with veteran performance coach Scot Prohaska where he dropped 11 pounds and reduced his body fat by eight percent. He reported to Halas Hall for the start of the offseason program two weeks ago at 252 pounds and 10 percent body fat.

"To be honest with you, I have never expected anything less than Shea and Shea was in tremendous shape when he came here last summer," Emery said. "Shea is a hard gainer in terms of putting weight on. And obviously we've put him in two different directions. Up and through the end of the season it was at defensive end. And to his knowledge he was a defensive end until we hired the rest of our defensive staff at the very last week of January.

The moment that we notified him that, hey, we're moving him to linebacker, he found the right person, he moved out to California and he attacked it with vigor. And that's what I would have expected out of Shea. And the end result of what he looks like is because of his efforts."

However, McClellin has not been promised a starting job at strong side linebacker. McClellin and fellow linebackers D.J. Williams, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene will have to compete for the two open linebacker spots next to perennial Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs.

"We're counting on him being part of that mix at linebacker and competing for the job. Nobody is going to be given a job; it's a full-on mix. The only person we've told has a job --the room has been told that -- is Lance Briggs. The rest of it is the best player wins."

Bears schedule: 5 key games

April, 24, 2014
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Here is a look at the five key matchups on the Chicago Bears' 2014 regular-season schedule:

Harbaugh
1. Sep. 14, Bears at San Francisco, 7:30 p.m. CT, NBC: The 49ers have been one of the NFC’s elite teams under head coach Jim Harbaugh with a 36-11 regular season and 5-3 postseason record (including a berth in Super Bowl XLVII) over the past three seasons. This Week 2 battle will be the first game played in the 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The California stadium development is fantastic news for the Bears. San Francisco’s old venue, Candlestick Park, was a house of horrors for Chicago teams. The Bears lost their final seven games at Candlestick by a combined score of 230-49. That is not a typo. 49ers 230 -- Bears 49. Hello, Santa Clara.

2. Oct. 12, Bears at Atlanta, noon CT, FOX: The Falcons fell apart last season because of injuries and finished 4-12. With better health and a couple new pieces on defense, Atlanta figures to contend for the NFC South title in 2014. But the Georgia Dome is another place that has played tricks on the Bears in recent years. The Bears were poised to knock off the Falcons in 2009, but lost 21-14 after a series of costly mistakes that included: Jay Cutler throwing an interception in the red zone, Matt Forte fumbling on two straight runs from the one-yard line, and former offensive tackle Orlando Pace being whistled for a false start on 4th-and-1 from the Atlanta 5-yard line on the game’s final drive. The Bears also allowed the Falcons to escape with a 22-20 victory in the Georgia Dome in 2008 on a late botched coverage that led to a winning field goal as time expired.

Belichick
3. Oct. 26, Bears at New England, noon CT, FOX: The Bears' most recent visit to Foxborough occurred in the Super Bowl year of 2006 when the teams played a tight game that featured a massive amount of turnovers. The Patriots eventually won 17-13, and four years later New England routed the Bears at a snowy Soldier Field, 36-7, leaving ex-head coach Lovie Smith winless against Bill Belichick. Second-year Bears’ boss Marc Trestman now has the opportunity to match wits with the perennial AFC powerhouse and arguably the greatest coach in the history of the NFL. Since the Patriots are always good, this figures to be one of the NFL’s marquee matchups in Week 8.

4. Nov. 9, Bears at Green Bay, 7:30 p.m. CT, NBC: This all looks so familiar. The Bears, fresh off their bye week, travel to Lambeau Field for a nationally televised night game. Where have we seen this before? Oh, yes, it was last year when Shea McClellin knocked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers out of a Monday night game with a fractured collarbone as the Bears pulled out a 27-20 victory. Can the Bears do it again? Keep in mind the Packers will also be coming off a bye week when the Bears arrive in Green Bay, so it’s not as if the Bears are expected to be fresher. But having extra time to prepare for Rodgers and company is never a bad thing. In a scheduling twist, the Bears won’t see the Packers again after Week 9 unless the teams meet in the playoffs.

Smith
5. Nov. 23, Bears vs. Buccaneers, noon CT, FOX: Welcome back, Lovie and Josh. The return of Lovie Smith and Josh McCown to Soldier Field will be highly anticipated in Chicago. Expect McCown, the new Tampa Bay quarterback, to receive a warm ovation from the Soldier Field faithful. Why wouldn’t he? McCown had a career year for the Bears in 2013 when he completed 149-of-224 attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception. Sure, McCown signed with the Bucs in free agency, but the Bears never made him an official offer. You can’t blame McCown for jumping ship. On the other hand, the reception for Smith is unlikely to be as positive, even though he won 81 regular-season games and three division titles in nine years before the Bears fired him. But Smith probably won’t care. He never struck me as the nostalgic type.

Bears meet with UCLA OLB Anthony Barr

April, 22, 2014
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CHICAGO -- The Bears traveled to Los Angeles in late March to conduct a private workout with UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.

ESPN NFL Draft Insider Mel Kiper Jr. projects Barr as being selected by the San Diego Chargers at No. 25 overall in the next month’s draft. Both Kiper and fellow ESPN Draft Insider Todd McShay rank Barr as the second best outside linebacker in the 2014 draft class.

Barr began his UCLA career in the Bruins’ offensive backfield where he lined up primarily at H back and appeared in 24 games and made 11 starts over the course of his freshman and sophomore year.

However, the 6-foot-5, 255 pound Barr made the switch to defense before his junior year and exploded with 13.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles-for-loss and 83 tackles in 2012. His 13.5 sacks were the second highest total in the nation behind only Georgia’s Jarvis Jones (14.5).

Barr followed up that effort with 62 tackles, 10 sacks, 20 tackles-for-loss, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries last season for the Bruins.

Most draft analysts consider Barr a better fit in a 3-4 defense where he can stand up and rush the passer, but the Bears have been known to make unorthodox selections the last two years. Few people predicted 2012 first-round choice Shea McClellin would be taken by a team that used a 4-3 defense, but the Bears snatched the hybrid McClellin up with the No. 19 overall pick.

On the surface, the Bears appear to have a greater need at inside linebacker, but Barr is an elite athlete, who ran a 4.41 40 yard dash in front of scouts at his pro day at UCLA.

McClellin transforms body in move to LB

April, 21, 2014
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The Chicago Bears will notice a lighter and leaner Shea McClellin when the team kicks off its offseason program Tuesday.

Fresh off a 12-week stint in California with veteran performance coach Scot Prohaska, McClellin dropped 11 pounds and 8 percent body fat in the offseason in anticipation of his much-anticipated move from defensive end to linebacker.

McClellin currently checks in at 252 pounds with 10 percent body fat, while running a 4.5 40-yard dash and bench-pressing 365 pounds.

"He knew it was a big year for him and wanted to perform for his teammates, the fans and the organization," Prohaska told ESPNChicago.com on Monday. "He felt deep inside this [linebacker] is where he always belonged. He was really motivated to prove to everybody that this is where he belonged."

Prohaska, who is based in Huntington Beach, Calif., has worked with professional athletes in a variety of sports for 20 years.

"I've known about Shea because his agent is a friend of mine and I actually help with some of his combine guys," Prohaska said. "I watched Shea this year and there was obviously a little concern about his performance. He struggled a little bit up and down the defensive line. I've been kind of eyeing him this last year but I've only known him for this offseason.

"So I evaluated him and took a look at a lot of his stuff in college at Boise State. I realized he was missing a couple of strengths or strength qualities you need for football. He's a springy guy, so in space he can get around you. But when he would lock in with a player, he didn't have the isometric strength or back strength to drive past the guy and disengage."

Prohaska said McClellin completely bought in to his program and moved to California with his wife for the three-month training session. The workouts ran five days a week for three hours a day, not to mention the nutritional part of the plan that McClellin had to adhere to.

McClellin never missed a workout.

"The first hour of the workout would be all movement-based stuff, linebacker stuff, drills -- really teaching him how to drop his hips and move in space," Prohaska said. "It was all multidirectional stuff. In the later afternoon we would hit on real critical strength stuff he needed; other days it was explosive strength."

The Bears think moving McClellin to linebacker will revitalize the first-round pick's career after he recorded just 6.5 total sacks in 2012 and '13 when he lined up at defensive end. McClellin is expected to compete for the starting strongside linebacker's job, but the Bears could decide to move the athletic McClellin to different spots during a game if the defense sports a more hybrid look.

Bears draft focus: LB

April, 21, 2014
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Despite selecting a pair of linebackers over the opening four rounds of last year’s draft, the Bears still need to find a viable, long-term solution in the middle of the defense.

While 2013 second-round pick Jon Bostic started nine games at middle linebacker as a rookie, Bears general manager Phil Emery has hinted on multiple occasions that Bostic may be better suited to one day move to outside linebacker.

“Maybe in the future his best position might be at one of those outside spots where he is filling from the backside and able to use his unique talents to the best of his ability,” Emery told ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” last December.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
Scott Donaldson/Icon SMIAlabama's C.J. Mosley is the top-rated inside linebacker in this year's draft.
Where Bostic lines up this year is up in the air. The Bears re-signed veteran inside linebacker D.J. Williams to a one-year deal, but Williams hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and appeared in just six games last season before landing on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. Williams will turn 32 in July, and even if he does manage to shake off the injury bug, is likely a short-term fix at middle linebacker.

Khaseem Greene, a 2013 fourth-round draft choice, replaced Lance Briggs at weakside linebacker for seven games last year and seems earmarked for a role on special teams in 2014, unless the Bears suffer another rash of injuries at the position.

Former first-round pick Shea McClellin is expected to transition from defensive end to strongside linebacker.

So if the Bears are serious about potentially moving Bostic outside in the near future, the team needs to find help at inside linebacker, possibly in this draft.

Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is the consensus No. 1 inside linebacker in the 2014 draft class and could be available when the Bears pick at No. 14 overall in the first round. But with greater needs at safety, cornerback and defensive tackle, the Bears could wait until the middle rounds to address linebacker.

If that is the route the Bears decide to go, Monday is an important day because Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov is scheduled to hold a private pro day and run in front of scouts and NFL personnel people for the first time in the offseason. Skov, who declined an invitation to the Senior Bowl, pulled a hamstring before Stanford’s pro day that kept him sidelined. He also did not run the 40 yard dash in February at the NFL combine.

Skov has dealt with injuries throughout his college career, but the 6-foot-2, 245 pounder finished last season with better overall numbers than many of the other highly rated linebackers in the class of 2014, including Mosley.

Skov recorded 109 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in 2013.

Another mid-round linebacker that could make sense for the Bears is Louisville’s Preston Brown, who began his college career at strong side linebacker before moving to the middle where he led the Cardinals in tackles back-to-back seasons. He had 98 stops, five sacks and 14 tackles for loss for Louisville last year.

“Moving to the middle taught me how to take control of the whole defense,” Brown said. “When you’re on the outside, you line up more at the line of scrimmage. In the middle, you sit back five yards and have to study what’s going on and make sure everybody is in the right place. You have to know everybody’s job.

"When you play Mike linebacker, you have to study a ton and learn the different shifts and formations. You have to be dialed in every snap, every game, because if you miss a check that could result in the other team scoring a touchdown. [Intelligence] is so important when you play middle linebacker.”

Brown has strong ties to new Bears assistant defensive line coach Clint Hurtt, who served as Louisville’s defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator from 2010-13.

“I love Coach Hurtt and he was one of my favorite coaches on the staff,” Brown said. “I would meet with him at least once a week and watch the run game and pick up some pass-rush moves from him. You could always talk to him if you had a problem. He was one of my favorite coaches.”

Five potential targets
1. C.J. Mosley, Alabama
2. Shayne Skov, Stanford
3. Chris Borland, Wisconsin
4. Preston Brown, Louisville
5. Max Bullough, Michigan State

The next five: 6. Avery Williamson, Kentucky; 7. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut; 8. Khairi Fortt, California; 9. DeDe Lattimore, South Florida; 10. Glenn Carson, Penn State.
Position grade: B

Reviewing the Bears' drafts: 2012

April, 17, 2014
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Here's Part 4 of our series reviewing the past five drafts of the Chicago Bears.

For the first time since 2002, the Bears had a new set of eyes overseeing the draft process. The Bears fired longtime general manager Jerry Angelo at the end of the 2011 regular season and replaced him with respected scout and college talent evaluator Phil Emery.

First-round pick: Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State

Number of picks: 6

How they did: Three members of the 2012 draft class had important roles for the Bears last season: McClellin, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (second round) and nickel back Isaiah Frey (sixth round). Safety Brandon Hardin, selected in the third round out of Oregon State, spent his rookie year on injured reserve and suffered another injury in the final preseason game last summer that again landed him on IR. The Bears quietly released Hardin several weeks later. Fourth-round pick tight end Evan Rodriguez contributed to the offense in 2012 but was released the next offseason after multiple brushes with the law. Greg McCoy, a cornerback/return man out of TCU whom the Bears took in the seventh round, failed to make the club out of training camp in his first season.

Pivotal pick: The Bears were in need of fresh legs at defensive end to complement Julius Peppers, who at that time still played at a Pro Bowl level, and veteran Israel Idonije. Emery bypassed what some considered safer pass rushing options at No. 19 overall (Chandler Jones and Whitney Mercilus) and selected McClellin, who impressed the Bears with his combination of speed and athleticism. Two years later, McClellin is projected to compete for a starting job at strong side linebacker in 2014. McClellin was certainly disruptive at times rushing the passer from the edge, but the name of the game at defensive end is sacks. McClellin had only a combined 6.5 sacks in two years, with three of the quarterback takedowns occurring in his memorable effort against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Nov. 4 when McClellin knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game with a fractured collarbone. McClellin went on to win NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Best pick: Jeffery, by a mile. Undeterred by the rampant questions surrounding Jeffery's weight and attitude in his final year at South Carolina, the Bears moved up in the second round to snatch the former All-American wide receiver. Jeffery rewarded the Bears' faith by being named to the Pro Bowl in just his second season after catching 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 wideout holds the top two spots in franchise history for receiving yards in a game with 218 yards against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 6, and 249 yards against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 1.

Worst pick: Hardin. A former and often injured collegiate cornerback, Hardin failed to make the transition to safety. Although Hardin had impressive size (6-foot-3, 217 pounds), he didn't seem to bend his hips much and appeared to play too high. Even if he stayed healthy, it would have been difficult to make an argument for the Bears to keep Hardin on the 53-man roster based on pure performance and football skills alone. The Bears are still searching for help at safety, in part, because the Hardin pick failed to pan out.
Everyone, thanks for taking the time to send in questions for this week’s Twitter mailbag.

We won’t have a mailbag next week, and my normal chat on Monday will be cancelled for this week as I’m headed to Texas to visit some friends and family. But everything returns to normal the week after.

Let’s get started:
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Here's this week's edition of our Chicago Bears Twitter mailbag. Enjoy the weekend, and be safe.

 
CHICAGO -- Cincinnati Bengals' free agent defensive end Michael Johnson is on the Chicago Bears' radar.

The Bears were one of the teams to inquire about Johnson on Saturday on the opening day of the NFL's legal tampering period leading up the official start of free agency on Tuesday at 3 p.m. CT, according to a source familiar with the situation.

ESPN.com's Minnesota Vikings NFL Nation beat reporter Ben Goessling had reported that seven teams had contacted Johnson's representatives by Saturday evening, including the division rival Vikings.

The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Johnson recorded only 3.5 sacks last season to go along with 56 tackles, one interception and two forced fumbles.

However, Johnson, 27, had a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2012.

In five years with the Bengals, Johnson has 26.5 sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles.

The Bears are in dire need of help at defensive end. Veteran Julius Peppers' future with the Bears is cloudy at best considering the eight-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher is scheduled to count $18,183,333 million against the club's 2014 salary cap.

Further complicating matters is that former first-round draft choice Shea McClellin is moving to linebacker next season, and Corey Wootton is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Wootton is currently recovering from offseason hip surgery and not expected to return until the summer.

The Chicago Tribune reported on Saturday the Bears are believed to have expressed interest in free agent defensive end Michael Bennett, whose brother Martellus is the team’s starting tight end.

Addressing the defensive end position is clearly a priority for the Bears in the coming days.

Four Downs: Should Bears trade 14th pick?

February, 28, 2014
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Phil EmeryBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsGeneral manager Phil Emery will turn to the draft to help fix the Bears' defense.
With an aging defense full of question marks, the Bears have plenty of needs as they head into May's NFL draft.

At the scouting combine, general manager Phil Emery seemed to hint that he'd be open to dealing their first-round pick, repeatedly mentioning the depth of offensive playmakers at the top of the draft, not an area of need for the Bears.

So if you were Emery, would you make a deal to acquire more picks? Our panel weighs in on that and more in an offseason edition of Four Downs:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears should trade their 14th pick for more picks later in the draft.


SportsNation

Should the Bears trade down in the draft to get more picks?

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    63%
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    37%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,507)

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears are open for business. The problem is most teams are in the same boat. In a perfect world, a team would always find a way to move back in the draft and stockpile additional picks. Think how valuable those extra draft choices would be this year as general manager Phil Emery attempts to rebuild the defense. But it takes two teams (at the minimum) to pull off a trade. The Bears would love to listen to offers for No. 14 if any come their way.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. The Bears aren't one player away on defense. Not that I advocate playing a ton of rookies, but the team needs depth and it needs depth at a good price. If they can get two picks in the top three rounds, preferably including a lower first-round one, for the 14th, go for it. That's why general manager Phil Emery shamelessly touted all of the offensive weapons available at that spot while speaking to reporters at the combine. The Bears' rare stability on offense gives them room to maneuver in the draft.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: Henry Melton is more likely to return to the Bears than Charles Tillman.


[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsAfter 11 seasons with the Bears, Charles Tillman will test the free agent market.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. This is tough one. I think both are 50/50 to return. I almost wonder if Melton, because of his age, will receive better offers in free agency than most of us expect, even though he is coming off an ACL injury. There is no reason for the Bears to overpay to keep Melton. None. In my opinion, Tillman is still one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. He'll have options, but with his age and recent injuries, the Bears could still be in position to bring him back, if Tillman wants to continue playing in Chicago. That's the big question. Does Tillman really want to stick around and play for the new regime? Free-agent cornerbacks were paid about $4.5 million annually last year. If the price is around the same next month, I believe the Bears might be inclined to go that high to keep Tillman. That's why I feel of the two, Tillman has a better shot to continue his career with the Bears.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Tillman wants to test the free-agent market and at his age, this will likely be the last full payday he will see. I hope he gets paid in full. Tillman will go down as an all-time great, the epitome of the Bears defense during this era. He'll be signing autographs, cutting ribbons on car dealerships, and eating free at steakhouses until he's old and gray. But unless he's willing to sign cheap, and why would he, he's not coming back. Melton, meanwhile, is damaged goods after tearing his ACL last season. He'll come at a lower cost and give the Bears the heft they were missing in the front when he and Nate Collins went down. The Bears will likely draft a young lineman with their first pick and a vet like Melton will help ease him in.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears should draft a quarterback in the middle rounds.


[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsIf the Bears are looking for a quarterback in the middle rounds, Alabama's A.J. McCarron could be an option.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Why not? Even if the Bears do re-sign Josh McCown in free agency, the team will eventually need to add a young quarterback to the roster. Let's face it, Jay Cutler is playing on a three-year deal. Whatever happens beyond 2016 is entirely dependent on Cutler's performance and health. But there are no guarantees. McCown, if he returns, will turn 35 years old in July. The Bears need to keep an eye on the future. Now, the Bears won't draft a quarterback just for the sake of drafting a quarterback. You can't force it. But if a quarterback the Bears covet is available in the middle rounds (Alabama's A.J. McCarron, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Georgia's Aaron Murray, etc), the club should seriously consider addressing the position. Head coach Marc Trestman knows what he is looking for at the quarterback position. Give it to him, if the right guy remains on the board on the second or third day of the draft.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. There's a groupthink about this idea, that the Bears have to draft a quarterback for Trestman to develop. I disagree, though I certainly wouldn't criticize if they found an undervalued QB late in the draft. Well, until I see him throw, that is. My take: Unless the Bears get a bundle for that 14th pick, I think draft picks this season are too precious to spend on a quarterback project when you have a starter set for the next few years. Armed with his new extension, Jay Cutler is essentially signed for three years, though I'm guessing he's in Chicago for another four. While this draft is being touted for good quarterbacks, there will be more next year and the year after that. The Bears should be looking at current sophomores and juniors and plan to draft one next season. This season, they should be trying to lock up McCown for another year or two, and if that doesn't work out, another veteran.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: Shea McClellin will be a much better NFL linebacker than defensive end.


[+] EnlargeMcClellin
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesShea McClellin will transition from defensive end to linebacker in 2014.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. I believe McClellin has a better shot to succeed in a two-point stance. McClellin is a great athlete. Let's not forget that important fact. Football is about putting players in the best possible position. I cannot guarantee that McClellin will thrive at linebacker. But I'll take my chances with McClellin rushing the quarterback with a running start versus a tight end, as opposed to having him operate at defensive end with his hand on the ground against an offensive tackle. New skill development coach Joe Kim will work hard with McClellin to enhance his pass-rushing skills. That's the plan, at least. The organization wants McClellin to turn into a really good football player. He seems to have the right attitude. We know he has certain talents. Now the Bears have to unlock the potential. Linebacker gives them the best shot to do just that. If he fails, he fails. But it won't be for a lack on effort on McClellin or the Bears' parts.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. We have no idea how he'll play this unfamiliar position. Is he quick enough to play linebacker? Can he shed blocks? Let's say he starts at strong-side linebacker. Teams will game plan to attack him, and if his defensive linemen can't dominate their opponents, he's going to be hung out to dry. This move signifies the Bears' last-ditch effort to salvage the first-round draft pick. It's not a no-brainer move aimed to sending him to the Pro Bowl. Now, maybe he picks up the change quickly and has a nice career. But I'm guessing his linebacking tenure looks a lot like his defensive end time, a few good plays, and some tantalizing potential, overshadowed by disappointment.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Because of everything going on at the NFL combine, we had to push back the Bears Twitter mailbag to Monday.

Sorry for any inconvenience, but the plan is to continue running this feature on Saturdays throughout the offseason.

Let’s get started with this question about safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte:

INDIANAPOLIS -- Publicly acknowledging the failure of former first-round pick Shea McClellin as a defensive end on Thursday at the NFL combine, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery announced the rising third-year player will move to linebacker.

Interestingly, McClellin -- who played strongside linebacker and middle linebacker in college at Boise State -- will compete for starting jobs at both those positions with 2013 second-round pick Jonathan Bostic, who started nine games last season as a rookie in the middle for the Bears.

“I think he’s very excited [about switching positions]. Obviously at Boise, he played Mike, he played Sam, he played with his hand on the ground,” Emery said. “So versatility is his strength. I’ll say this: generally, we’ll take calculated risks, which we did with Shea. When we swing, we’re gonna swing on the high side of athleticism, and that’s why we’re still excited about him being able to contribute at a high level.”

[+] EnlargeShea McClellin
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHigh on his athleticism, the Bears are confident that Shea McClellin can make an impact at linebacker.
In speaking to new linebackers coach Reggie Herring, Bears coach Marc Trestman gained confidence in McClellin’s ability to successfully transition to 4-3 linebacker, despite spending his first two years as a defensive end. During the evaluation process leading up to the 2012 draft, Herring believed McClellin possessed the skill set to play linebacker in the NFL, and relayed those thoughts recently to Trestman.

“And that was great to hear, and great to know,” Trestman said. “So he’s excited about working with him and certainly he is as big of an expert as we have on this staff in terms of the ability of developing a linebacker. So we are excited about it.”

The plan, according to Trestman, is for McClellin to start off competing with Bostic on the strong side, but he’ll also play in the middle. Bostic’s move to the outside stems from the team’s belief that his skill set would be better utilized at that position.

At middle linebacker, Bostic sometimes struggled to fight off blocks by offensive linemen (which came from both directions as the result of him playing in the middle), and even admitted that in the NFL blockers “get up on you” faster than he anticipated. Because of Bostic’s speed and explosive burst, however, Emery thinks he could contribute more on the outside. The team thinks that, eventually, Bostic will take over on the weak side for Lance Briggs.

“This is what we envision: Shea is going to move to linebacker, but Shea will be used in multiple roles, wherever his skills will take him,” Emery said. “He is a perfect candidate to be on the field all downs in some capacity, whether that is blitzing, rushing, playing against the run in run personnel. But he is going to have to compete for his job. Competition right now is Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene, and it’s Shea. Obviously, we feel that Lance Briggs is our weak[side] starter. If we add back a D.J. Williams or another player, that player will be involved in that competitive mix. It’s best person wins those two spots. We’re excited about the competition.”

Given the team’s evaluation of McClellin’s physical attributes, it appears the Bears envision a Swiss Army knife-type of role for the former defensive end. When the team used a first-round pick to select McClellin in 2012 to play defensive end, two personnel men revealed to ESPN.com that he wasn’t a first-round talent on their teams' draft boards.

Still, the Bears held high hopes for McClellin, who racked up 20.5 sacks at Boise State, 33 tackles for lost yardage and four interceptions.

McClellin played 14 games as a rookie and contributed seven tackles and 2.5 sacks, and followed that up with 29 tackles last season and just four sacks.

Emery admits defensive end might not have been the best place for McClellin, but said the situation “taught me to keep picking guys that have versatility because none of us are gonna be perfect. If you swing and miss on a player, you hope that they have the skill set, that they’re still competing and contributing in a positive way, which Shea did. In terms of pure defensive ends, [it taught me to] probably make sure they’re a little bit longer, and a little bit heavier.”

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