INDIANAPOLIS — There are no linebackers on the Bears’ roster with the size and athleticism of free-agent-to-be Brian Urlacher if the team fails to re-sign him and needs a replacement.
But there is a player at Halas Hall who is similar to Urlacher in a lot of ways, and that is defensive end Shea McClellin.
The Bears drafted McClellin last year in the first round out of Boise State, where he split time between D-line and linebacker, and then-coach Lovie Smith was adamant that he would play defensive end.
But new coach Marc Trestman doesn’t seem so sure.
“I think that he has flexibility,” Trestman said of the McClellin, who at 6-feet-3 and 260-pounds is an inch shorter and two pounds heavier than Urlacher.
“He’s a tremendous athlete. We’ve had discussions about Shea and all his strengths and weaknesses. He’s got a lot of strengths and a lot of great things he can do.
“As (new defensive coordinator) Mel (Tucker) and the guys continue to put the defense together, we’ll decide collectively what the best place for him to play is.”
Phil Emery sends mixed signals on the future of the first player he drafted as Bears general manager.
“Right now he’s a D-end,” Emery said. “He’ll remain a D-end. But, if there’s something in him that sparks us in terms of ‘he’s got versatility,’ like he did last year (when) he stood up (and played linebacker) in certain situations, we’re not going to put an umbrella on him.
“We’re going to use his talent, his athleticism, his speed, his savvy to the best that we can. Whatever our coaches concoct as far as a plan for him, we’ll use every ounce of him.
“We’re excited about him as a pass rusher. We want him to get on the field more in regular-down situations, and his versatility is a plus for him. So if he ends up being a linebacker in some situations, good.”
For all his athleticism, there are questions about whether McClellin will ever rush the passer like a first-round defensive end. He had 14 quarterback pressures last season but just 2½ sacks.
McClellin could be better at middle linebacker, and even if the Bears re-sign Urlacher, he’s clearly near the end of his career. If they don’t need a replacement now, they’ll need one soon.
If the Bears move McClellin to middle linebacker, they could target an impact pass rusher in the draft, and there are a few who could be elite.
They could gamble on greatness with their first-round pick (20th overall) and take the best player from Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah. He didn’t play football until three years ago after he had enrolled at BYU hoping to play basketball.
Comparisons of Ansah to New York Giants Pro Bowler Jason Pierre-Paul are premature for now, considering the novice has started just nine football games in his life.
But he ran a 4.63 40 and had a vertical jump of 34½ inches at 6-5 and 271 pounds this week at the NFL Scouting Combine.
As a member of the BYU track team, before he was persuaded by classmates to try football, Ansah ran 10.9 in the 100 meters and 21.9 in the 200. In Ghana he played soccer and basketball, but he failed to make the BYU team two years in a row after being recruited by a Mormon missionary.
“I didn’t want to sit around and (just) go to school,” he said at the combine. “I wanted to do something. Since basketball didn’t work out, I wanted to do football.”
Even though he’s a huge project at this point is his development, Ansah is projected as a first-round pick by most NFL teams. He’s considered enough of an athlete to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme but is big enough to handle end in a 4-3 scheme like the Bears play.
His knowledge of NFL history is limited but getting better.
“I try to stay up late and watch NFL Network,” he said. “I have no idea who (the older players) are. But this is going to be my life, so I just try to suck it all in.
“In comparison to other people that are out there, I still have a lot to do just to catch up to them.”
A demonstration of how quickly Ansah is able to make up ground came in the Senior Bowl in January. After a lackluster week of practice, he was named defensive player of the game with 1½ sacks.
“I want to be the best player at this position, even with the little experience I have,” he said. “That is the challenge that I have.”
ŸFollow Bob’s NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.