Updated: November 19, 2013 6:42AM
A trip to Landover, Md., to play the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field could be exactly what defensive end Shea McClellin needs.
Of all the Bears’ defensive players, McClellin might be most in need of a confidence-building, difference-making game before the bye week.
A season of high hopes has turned into one full of reasonable doubts as McClellin has struggled to make the impact expected from a first-round pick.
“Happy? No,” McClellin said. “I don’t know. I’m not ever really happy with what I do, no matter what it is. But you can’t settle in or anything like that. I just have to keep working.”
A matchup against quarterback Robert Griffin III could help. It should provide McClellin with opportunities to display his athleticism, versatility and speed. And it should give him more snaps with room to maneuver rather than having his hand in the dirt opposite bigger offensive tackles.
“I’m going into it like any other game, but I like playing running quarterbacks,” McClellin said. “It’s always fun and a different challenge.”
The Redskins’ zone-read option hasn’t been humming at last year’s striking pace, especially with Griffin coming off major knee surgery. But it still remains part of Washington’s offense, and Griffin is looking more like the fleet-footed QB who ran for 815 yards in 2012.
Griffin ran nine times for 77 yards — both season highs — in Washington’s 31-16 loss last Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys, who also run a cover-2-based defense. It included a 26-yard scramble down the middle, a designed draw play on the Cowboys’ 10 and runs out of the zone-read option.
“That burst looked pretty good,” linebacker Lance Briggs said. “Don’t be deceived, don’t be deceived at all. He’s playing better and better each week.”
This is where McClellin comes in. Last season against the Seattle Seahawks, the Bears used McClellin to spy quarterback Russell Wilson. It had mixed results, but so did the Bears’ entire defense that game.
The Bears need to maximize McClellin, who has only one sack. Pro Football Focus has him with a -10.2 rating because of his struggles against the run. But McClellin also is tied for the team lead with a combined 6½ quarterback knockdowns and hurries, according to STATS.
It has been widely argued that McClellin is miscast at defensive end and is best suited to play linebacker. Teams that run 3-4 defenses — the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots — were said to be interested in him coming out of Boise State last year.
McClellin is aware of the linebacker arguments.
“Everyone says it all the time, so, yeah, [I hear about it], but that’s not what the Bears want me to do,” he said.
“They want me to play 4-3 end, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
But not all the time — not anymore.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker diversified his plans for McClellin the last few games. He has rushed more from an upright position. Against the New York Giants last week, McClellin lined up over guards in a two-point stance and stunted outside.
“I definitely feel comfortable moving around,” McClellin said. “Hopefully, we’ll keep doing some of that.”
And Tucker said he’ll do just that.
“He has a history of doing that and playing on his feet in a two-point, at different positions and playing in space,” Tucker said. “He’s comfortable doing that, and it’s very important that you try to put guys in a position to be successful, and that’s what we’ll try to do.”