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Shea McClellin on the spot in Bears’ preseason opener

Updated: September 10, 2012 1:49PM



The scrutiny of rookie defensive end Shea McClellin has been intense from the first day of minicamp, but the Bears’ first-round draft pick ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

When the Bears face the Denver Broncos in their preseason opener tonight at Soldier Field (7:30 p.m., Fox-32, 780-AM), all eyes will be on McClellin as fans get their first chance to jump to the conclusion that the team should have gone for more immediate help with the 19th pick in the draft.

The first game of a highly anticipated season makes ‘‘work-in-progress’’ a hard sell, even for a talented rookie, which puts McClellin in a tough spot.

‘‘It is, but I don’t pay attention to that,’’ McClellin said. ‘‘People can think whatever they want. I’m just going to go out there and give 100 percent every day and just get better, and if that’s not fast enough for them, oh, well. I’m going to go as fast as I can possibly go and work as hard as I possibly can to get better.’’

Though training camp can be a dubious measuring stick, McClellin has been stymied by offensive linemen at every level of the depth chart and hasn’t done anything to alter the notion that he will be a third-down pass rusher at best as a rookie.

But it’s early. Bears coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli have said they’re happy with McClellin’s progress — though they wouldn’t say so publicly if they weren’t. McClellin is not discouraged, but his progress is hard to quantify.

‘‘I think I’ve done OK so far,’’ he said when asked about his progress. ‘‘I’m just trying to get better every day, that’s all.’’

Where has he improved?

‘‘A little bit of everything,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m starting to get the run game down a little bit. I’m continuing to work on pass rush. It’s a difficult thing to get down. You’ve got to work on it hard and listen to the coaches.’’

With McClellin still in a formative stage, the game tonight could be a bigger showcase for other rookies and young players who have flashed potential in camp. Among them:

Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery: The 6-3, 216-pound second-round pick from South Carolina will be given ample opportunities to prove he can parlay his obvious big-play skills into game-day success.

Safety Chris Conte: After starting nine games as a rookie last year, the third-round pick from California looks more sure of himself and has shown signs of taking the next step. The Bears are counting on it.

Safety Brandon Hardin: A college cornerback who didn’t play at Oregon State last year because of an injury, Hardin is learning quickly at free safety, but he could transition to strong safety if opportunity warrants it.

Tight end Evan Rodriguez: The fourth-round pick from Temple is an intriguing player. He shows uncommon big-play ability for a Bears tight end, but the stars have to align for him to be a factor this season.



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