Corey Wootton, Shea McClellin need to bolster Bears’ pass rush
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter August 12, 2013 9:30PM
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Updated: August 13, 2013 9:58AM
BOURBONNAIS — Though his big smile said otherwise, Bears defensive end Corey Wootton insisted he gained no particular satisfaction from taking a rookie to school Monday. He even praised the victim, fifth-round pick Jordan Mills.
‘‘It kind of reminds me of when I first got here,’’ Wootton said. ‘‘I kind of got whupped up on a little bit by some of the older guys. But it’s all good. He did well on certain plays against me. A couple of plays, I got him. He’s definitely talented. He’s going to be a great player.’’
Mills might or might not learn his lesson. The greater significance was that it was Wootton who was dishing it out — a few quick first steps toward what he hopes is one giant leap this season.
Under first-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the Bears are hoping to maintain the standout defense they had with Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli.
But the reality is that there’s more to it than that. With key core players still producing at a Pro Bowl level not getting any younger — defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman — the Bears need complementary players to develop into stars.
The situation arguably is most precarious on the defensive line, where it all starts in the cover-2 defense as designed by Smith and tweaked by Tucker. Peppers led the Bears with 111/2 sacks last year. Israel Idonije was next with 71/2, and he signed with the Lions in free agency. Idonije’s absence leaves a hole that threatens to get bigger as Peppers gets older.
The most obvious solution is that the Bears upgrade from within. Wootton and 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin give the Bears two chances to develop a pass rusher who doesn’t have to be as good as Peppers, but probably needs to be better than Idonije.
McClellin, the 19th overall pick last year, is the marquee candidate. He had 21/2 sacks and 14 quarterback pressures in 14 games as a rookie. His closing speed is impressive. But he needs to develop more varied pass-rush moves to get a chance to use it.
‘‘I feel much better than I did last year, for sure,’’ McClellin said. ‘‘It seemed like last year I was just one or two steps away from making a play. This year, I have to work on winning quicker. From the first preseason game last year to this year is a big difference. Just looking at that film, I feel a lot better.’’
But to the naked eye in training camp, the 6-6, 270-pound Wootton is closer to making the quantum leap the Bears are looking for. He had seven sacks and 12 quarterback pressures in 2012 and started ahead of Idonije the last seven games.
‘‘[Wootton] expects to be a special player,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘So this is the time to develop, one rep at a time. And that’s what we’re working to do. Only time will tell, but he’s going to put the work in. It’s real important to him, and we need him to be a good player.’’
Wootton, a fourth-round pick in 2010 who had injury problems earlier in his career, has come a long way just to get to this point.
The next step is a big one, but he has hopes of becoming an elite player.
‘‘I believe I can be,’’ he said. ‘‘I think the biggest thing is going out there and doing it and not worrying about living up to expectations. You can talk about it as much as you want. The biggest thing is going out there and making plays.’’