INDIANAPOLIS -- It's official: Shea McClellin is a linebacker.
McClellin was the Bears' 2012 first-round draft pick and Phil Emery's first selection as the team's general manager, but he will no longer play defensive end, a position where he has enjoyed only marginal success in two NFL seasons.
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound McClellin had 4 sacks last season and has shown sporadic ability to rush the passer and make plays with his speed and athleticism. The Bears hope those skills will be put to better use by the position switch to help a defense that was one of the worst in franchise history last season.
McClellin also had 18 quarterback pressures last season, just 1 behind team leader Julius Peppers. The Bears were 26th last season in sacks, another defensive area in desperate need of improvement.
"Obviously (we were) disappointed in the sack production," Emery said Wednesday morning at the NFL's Scouting Combine. "But (McClellin) was our most productive rusher. So we want to get him involved in that role, whether it's from a linebacker alignment, from a two-point or a three-point (stance), or with stunts. His athleticism allows him to pressure the quarterback. We want to put him in position where he can make more plays overall."
The move doesn't guarantee a starting spot for McClellin, who started 10 games last season at left end and tied for 14th on the team with 29 tackles. It's uncertain which linebacker position he'll be playing, but he'll start the off-season program competing on the strong side, where veteran James Anderson started all 16 games last season. Anderson is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11, but could return to the Bears.
McClellin will be learning his new position from the Bears' new linebackers coach, Reggie Herring, who was hired Jan. 23.
"Shea has been communicating with Reggie. He knows he's going to be a linebacker," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "He knows we're going to work with him at the Sam (strongside linebacker spot) to start, but he should expect to work at both the Sam and the Mike (middle linebacker) position as he comes back."
D.J. Williams, another veteran signed a year ago in free agency, began the 2013 season as the starting middle linebacker but played just five games before suffering a season-ending chest injury. He is also eligible for free agency. Last year's second-round draft pick, Jon Bostic, started the final 10 games in the middle, but he could be moved to the outside this season.
Trestman said McClellin is looking forward to the position switch. He lined up at linebacker and defensive end during a standout career at Boise State that included 20 ½ sacks and 33 tackles for loss.
"Shea is really excited about it," Trestman said. "Just the opportunity to get off the ball, to be able to run and do some things. His skill set is speed. I'm really excited to see how this evolves with him."
With Bostic possibly moving to the outside, the return of veterans Anderson and Williams questionable, and last year's fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene also in the mix, the only certainty at linebacker is seven-time Pro Bowler Lance Briggs on the weak side.
"This is what we envision," Emery said. "Shea is going to move to linebacker but will be used in multiple roles, wherever his skills will take him. He is a perfect candidate to be on the field all downs in some capacity, whether that is blitzing, rushing (or) playing against the run.
"But he is going to have to compete for his job. He's going to have to win that job. He could win that job at Sam. He could win that job at Mike. We're excited about the competition. That's what makes your team better."
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