- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
- 0 Shares
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Mark Anderson was much more freak than fluke.
As a rookie out of Alabama in 2006, the 6-foot-4, 255-pounder's vertical jump at the NFL scouting combine was 42 inches, better than any defensive end over the previous decade. And his broad jump was 10 feet, 7 inches, which had not been surpassed in the previous nine years.
So while nobody was expecting the Chicago Bears' fifth-round draft pick that year to set a franchise rookie record with 12 sacks as a situational pass rusher, the most ever by an NFL rookie drafted in the fifth round or later, it did not exactly come out of nowhere.
Shea McClellin said Sunday he will wait until after training camp to set any specific goals. And nobody with the Bears would go so far as to say they are expecting their first-round pick to match Anderson's numbers in his rookie year. But no question the bar is high. Too high for now.
"It's tough on everybody," said Bears second-year offensive tackle and former first-round pick Gabe Carimi, who still faces rookie expectations after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in Week 2 of last season. "But I think the Bears drafted [McClellan] for a reason and you've got to show it."
In his first NFL practice wearing pads Saturday night, both McClellin and coaches were reserved in their comments and for good reason. While he looked athletic as most expected with a couple of pass deflections, McClellin also looked like a rookie, getting handled by offensive tackle Chris Williams on several occasions.
"He's a quick kid, runs pretty well, looks like he plays hard," Williams said Sunday. "But it's hard to tell from one night."
McClellin admitted he almost made too much of it as well.
"At first I was a little nervous, almost like I was playing a game," he admitted. "But after I got that first hit, I felt like I knew what to expect and I really enjoyed it out there."
Then on Sunday, he looked every bit the rookie at times during pass-rush drills, losing battles against everyone from rookie free agents to tight ends to J'Marcus Webb.
"I've got to do better than that," McClellan said.
By starting him out as a situational player, the Bears are hoping to ease the pressure on McClellan, who can focus primarily on defending the pass and develop his skills against the run.
Anderson followed his phenomenal rookie season with five sacks in his second year and has not been a starter since, though he legitimized his talent last season with 11 sacks for New England. If McLellan can notch five or six this season as a situational player, develop some consistency and have staying power as a future starter, Bears fans should be just as happy.
"I think a lot of that [pressure on McClellin] is coming from the outside," said Israel Idonije, the Bears incumbent starter at end along with Julius Peppers. "I think [the Bears' coaches] are asking him to come in and just work hard to get better, learn the system and contribute. And just watching him work, he's definitely doing that. He has a great work ethic. You don't have to tell him anything twice."
Like Anderson, who was signed in March to a free-agent contract by the Buffalo Bills and will play under new defensive coordinator and former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt, McLellan is more finesse than bull-rush and similar in size. But Anderson had a rare ability as a rookie, former Bears offensive lineman Ruben Brown told Buffalobills.com, to torque his body and create difficult angles in order to elude the punches of offensive tackles.
McClellin said he will try to expand on the few signature moves he had as a second-team All-American at Boise State.
"Coach [Rod] Marinelli was telling us to get a couple moves and work on those, and have your counter moves and all that," he said, "so I have a couple go-to moves I can work on to perfect."
As for racheting up a high number of sacks, McClellin was told of former Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache's oft-repeated contention that they are overrated.
"I'd say he's right, it is about pressure and those don't show up in the stats unfortunately," McClellin said. "But if you're getting pressure and making the quarterback throw faster and making him rattled, I think that's just as good as a sack."
That said, after signing a four-year contract that included a $4.4 million signing bonus, it is clear he understands the expectations. And that's half the battle.
"Oh yeah, fans or whoever it may be are always looking at first-, second- and third-round picks to get in there and contribute right away," he said. "I think it's fair and, like I said, I'm just going to try to do what I can to help out this defense.
"But whatever people are saying, you also kind of have to tune that out and just do your thing."
The bar shouldn't be set too high for Bears' first-round pick Shea McClellin.