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Bears top pick Shea McClellin adjusting to pro game, seeing results

Bears defensive end SheMcClell(99) reacts after sacking Broncos quarterback Caleb Hanie preseasgame Aug. 9 Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Bears defensive end Shea McClellin (99) reacts after sacking Broncos quarterback Caleb Hanie in a preseason game Aug. 9 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:33PM

At the start of training camp, when the Bears finally padded up, Shea McClellin immediately learned the age-old rookie lesson.

He wasn’t in college anymore, and certainly not at Boise State.

“Early on, I was very frustrated,” McClellin said. “Then I was pressing.”

Blessed with an explosive first step, McClellin routinely beat college offensive tackles. But in training camp, against J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams, neither of whom have established themselves, McClellin realized that step wasn’t enough.

Asked if he felt added pressure because he was the team’s first-round draft pick, McClellin said, “It’s there.”

Bears coach Lovie Smith doesn’t care.

“I don’t believe in that,” he said. “I want them to put as much pressure and be miserable early, as a rookie coming in, because of the standard that you set for yourself right away.

“That’s what Shea did. You want him to say, ‘I got to get better. That wasn’t good enough.’ ”

But Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli gave McClellin some advice: Just chill.

“Coach Marinelli told me to relax a little bit and just go out and have fun,” McClellin said. “I’ve been trying to do that. Even if I’m not ‘winning,’ as long as I’m giving 110 percent, that’s all I can do.”

He also has been focused on his hands, hips and keeping his shoulders at the right level to gain leverage on his opponent.

McClellin started winning some one-on-one battles in camp. Then he showed off his athleticism in the preseason opener against the Denver Broncos.

With Broncos quarterback Caleb Hanie sprinting toward the right sideline, McClellin gave chase, dove and earned the sack.

“I was trying to take a good angle to get him,” McClellin said. “Then using that relentless mentality.”

Going to the tape

Shortly after his arrival, Bears general manager Phil Emery identified a pass rusher as a need. He had his staff spool together each rush of the top seven pass-rushing defensive ends in the draft from the last two seasons.

“We made it an equal, not competition, but an equal evaluation,” Emery said. “We had them put it all together. Then, as a scouting staff, [we] went through those players.”

The staff ranked each of the players, and McClellin ranked “very high,” Emery said.

But McClellin wasn’t a full-time end. They evaluated his athletic attributes, then determined whether he was a fit for the scheme and locker room.

“This guy is made of the right stuff,” Emery said. “He’s got a very high motor, and he’s a very good, earnest, hard-working player who is going to fit in any locker room.

“You have other players in the mix [for the 19th overall selection], and we had seven players around that pick. But he was the player that was at the top, and we made that move forward.”

Early returns

Because McClellin played in a 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker, many analysts projected him to play in the same scheme in the NFL. But the Bears are convinced he can make the transition to defensive end.

Emery, though, said McClellin is being groomed to play on the line of scrimmage.

“We’re developing him as a pass rusher and someone who will end up being a full-time starter,” Emery said. “He has things he has to work on, like all the players do, and because of his work ethic and who he is and his instincts, we see him being able to fulfill those expectations. So we’re not thinking linebacker.”

Emery and Smith have been encouraged by McClellin’s knack for making athletic plays, showing instincts and not missing many plays in practice.

“ ‘He can’t play the run. He’s too small. He’s this, he’s that,’ ” Smith said, rattling off criticism of McClellin. “But he’s a perfect complement for Julius Peppers when they start running from the big dog to him. We’ve been saying all along, ‘He’s right on time.’ ”

Israel Idonije will start the season opposite Peppers, but there’s no doubt McClellin will rotate in and receive quality snaps.

While there’s the temptation to drop him into coverage and use him in different ways, McClellin said he’s happy the Bears have him focused on getting after the quarterback.

“That’s what I love to do, just rush the passer,” McClellin said. “So I’m thankful for that. I enjoy it.”

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