BOURBONNAIS -- First-round defensive end Shea McClellin had his best practice yet, intercepting a pass and showing better pass-rush presence than he had in earlier practices.
On the pick, McClellin diagnosed a screen pass by backup quarterback Jason Campbell and simply reacted.
"I just saw the quarterback dropping back, so I was going for an inside rush," the Boise State product said. "But I saw him dropping back further, so I kind of stopped and just waited for him to throw it and luckily it was right in my hands."
Coach Lovie Smith took note of the play but wasn't surprised, although he was pleased to see McClellin flash the skills that led the Bears to select him 19th overall and to answer some of the critics who had panned his first week of camp.
"It was impressive," coach Lovie Smith said, "but he's capable of making plays like that. When you're a first-round draft pick coming in, there's a lot of pressure on you to be all-pro right away.
"It takes time. He has great quickness and speed. He works hard; good athletic ability. Nothing should stop him from being a real good football player."
McClellin wasn't overly impressed with his day.
"Toward the end, I felt like I did a little better than normal," he said, "but early on I felt like I had cement legs. I've got to work past that, but overall I think it was all right."
Changing of the guard:
Stephen Paea took most of the first-team reps at nose tackle in Thursday's practice, relegating incumbent starter Matt Toeaina to a backup role.
"He's been working with the ones for a reason," said coach Lovie Smith of the 6-foot-1, 300-pound Paea. "He's done some good things: rushing the passer, (and) he can play the nose. He (also) has under tackle ability at the 3 technique."
Last season as a rookie, Paea backed up Toeaina at nose and Henry Melton at the 3 technique, a position that requires more quickness and pass-rush ability than nose tackle, which is traditionally more of a run-stuffing role.
But defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wants more penetration out of the nose tackle this season, which would seem to favor Paea.
He has a good initial burst to go with the strength that helped him set the scouting combine record with 49 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press in 2011 before the Bears made him their second-round pick (53rd overall).
"He can do a lot of things," Smith said. "In his second year, a high draft pick, he should be ready to make a move."
Coming into focus:
J'Marcus Webb lined up at left tackle with the first-team O-line for the third straight day, in the ongoing "competition" with Chris Williams, who split first-team right tackle reps with Gabe Carimi for the second straight day.
"We like what he's doing," coach Lovie Smith said of Webb. "For him and all of our tackles to (pass block) against Julius Peppers and guys like that each day, you have to be ready to play. It has to get you better."
Smith still refused to anoint Webb or commit to a starting line.
"We would like to have our team established right now and be ready for the Colts (in the season opener), but we're not," he said. "There's a process we go through. We're right on schedule."
Here and gone:
Devin Hester was excused from Thursday's practice, but no further information was provided.
Brian Urlacher, whose sore knee prevented him from practicing Wednesday, was limited Thursday. He did not participate in any full-speed 11-on-11 work.
Wide receiver Eric Weems (ankle) and linebacker Adrien Cole also did not practice.