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Phil Emery’s first pick throws us a curve

Commissioner Roger Goodell welcomes Bears’ first-round draft choice SheMcClellBoise State inNFL. | JasDeCrow~AP

Commissioner Roger Goodell welcomes the Bears’ first-round draft choice, Shea McClellin of Boise State, into the NFL. | Jason DeCrow~AP

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Updated: April 27, 2012 8:36PM



Bears general manager Phil Emery said he was looking at “a core of about seven players’’ for the 19th pick in the first round of the draft.

That could have meant anything from an offensive guard, tackle, wide receiver, to a defensive end, defensive tackle or maybe even a cornerback. All those positions have needs of varying degree.

So with the 19th pick in the first round Emery and his crew picked a ... linebacker.

I don’t want to say there were quite a few of us there in the Halas Hall “hot room’’ who were surprised to hear Boise State’s Shea McClellin — 6-3 3/8, 260 pounds, 4.63 40 — announced as the Bears pick. But a linebacker? With Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs in the house? Even if they’re getting old?

Then came Emery himself to explain that McClellin, who played outside linebacker and defensive end in college, would be used as a defensive end with the Bears. The thought of a young Trace Armstrong came to mind as video of the tow-headed, 22-year-old walking across the New york stage flashed on the big screen.

Then, of course, came video of the young man playing on that hideous billiard-blue Boise State football field. He mowed people over. He blitzed from the outside and hit the quarterback. He deflected passes. He looked like a wild 2-ball on a blue pool table.

“Obviously, it helps fill a need for us,’’ said rookie Emery, who is running his first draft. “This is a four-down player’’ who “could line up on the right or left.’’

Starting defense end Israel Idonije will have some competition, thus. Julius Peppers, the Bears superstar defensive end on the other side, will get some opposite side help.

“[McClellin] has a very natural ability to find the right path to the ball,’’ added Emery, getting into those beloved intangibles that are cliches, but truly make or break a player.

One thinks of two Bears first-round defensive end draft picks of yore: John Thierry (1994) and Michael Haynes, (2003). Both were busts, for different reasons, but neither could be said to have had “a very high level of natural football instincts,’’ which Emery insists McClellin does. Here’s hoping he’s more Dan Hampton than Dan Bazuin.

And yet ... what about the offensive line?

Maybe Emery will load up there as the rest of the draft continues.

But the Bears hopes are built around one player — quarterback Jay Cutler — and Cutler was sacked 105 times in the last two seasons, and that is not healthy. That is not good at all.

A stud ­offensive left tackle, a block for the ages, would be the greatest present the Bears could hand Cutler.

They tried last year with Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi (29th pick), and you have to wonder if his failure to even make it through the second game without going down with an injury means he was a bad pick or a simply a victim of bad luck in a violent game?

Those are the tough things to know, the things Emery will be judged by, even if he has no control over them.

But he does control whom he chooses, and there was nobody saying, “Wow, Shea McClellin, all right!’’

Emery liked what he saw of ­McClellin at the Senior Bowl, where he played strong or “Sam’’ in football jargon, linebacker.

“A lot of versatility,’’ said Emery.

And then McClellin himself came on the speaker phone, and I got a chance to ask him if he prefers the three-point stance or upright stance. Sort of like caveman or Neanderthal.

“Whatever they want me to play,’’ he said earnestly. He already had said that coming to the Bears was “awesome’’ and that the thought of playing with Peppers was “unbelievable.’’

So there you have your first pick, Bears fans.

A good one?

We’ll only know for sure if ­Cutler himself stays upright.



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