Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers rarely finds himself alone on the edge these days. That’s because the perennial All-Pro is normally joined by two or three offensive lineman on almost every repetition.
So this April, when the Bears went out and spent a first-round pick on Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin, the hope was that the selection would pay immediate dividends and lighten the load on Peppers. It’s still over a month before McClellin and the Bears have to lace ’em up officially, but two days into padded practices the former Bronco is fighting to make the adjustment to the NFL.
The initial impression of Shea McClellin’s play is that he’ll need plenty of work if he hopes to establish his own presence on the edge of the Bears 4-3 defense and alleviate any load from Julius Peppers 6’6″ 300 lb. frame. Shea McClellin will tell you just as much.
“I’m pretty rough on myself,” McClellin said after taking significant first-team reps Sunday afternoon with Julius Peppers on the sidelines resting. “It wasn’t a good practice. I gotta do better than that, and I put that all on myself. I just gotta keep getting better”
With Julius Peppers essentially absent from the action, per head coach Lovie Smith’s request, McClellin saw reps with virtually every unit, and though he showed occasional flashes, he found himself on the receiving end of a few vicious pancakes.
However, McClellin is still eager to get back out there, put in the time, and earn the experience necessary to impress the coaches.
“(The coaches) didn’t say much today. I just need to do what they have taught me,” McClellin said. “I’ve got to get off the ball and rush. My legs are tired, but I don’t want to be a wimp about it. I just need to not worry about that and do my job.”
The extra reps, combined with the adjustment time necessary to adapt to the speed of the NFL game and the rust factor of not having played football since Dec. 22 — when Boise State defeated Arizona State in the Maaco Bowl — seemed to be a toxic combination for McClellin.
“The speed is definitely faster (in the NFL) — the intensity is higher — and when you haven’t put the pads on in (seven) months, or whatever, it takes its toll,” McClellin said.
McClellin may not have been prepared to be thrust into the furnace of first-team reps, but with Julius Peppers’ role already cemented on this team, it may be something he has to get used to quick according the Lovie Smith.
“We’re not going to beat (Julius Peppers) up. We pretty much know what he can, so don’t monitor his reps. He doesn’t even know what they’re gonna be,” Smith said.
In other words, Smith and his staff will be liberally resting Julius Peppers throughout training camp to keep the Pro Bowler healthy, and it will be feast or famine for the rest of the defensive ends.