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Bears like McClellin’s versatility

LAKE FOREST – Pick a sport, any sport. Shea McClellin probably can play it.

Pick a position, any position. McClellin probably can play that, too.

For as long as the Bears’ defensive end can remember, he has been a versatile athlete.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” McClellin said Wednesday after the Bears wrapped up the second day of voluntary minicamp at the Walter Payton Center. “Basketball, I played one through five.

“I could play anything. At any sport, really.”

Hmm. The Cubs might be interested.

Until then, McClellin is focused on helping the Bears. And the Bears are focused on collecting more players like McClellin.

Although the Bears have not implemented major changes to their 4-3 defensive scheme since new coordinator Mel Tucker took over for Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli, flexibility has been a buzzword at Halas Hall. That could affect how the Bears approach next week’s draft, in which they have the No. 20 overall selection and five picks total.

Bears general manager Phil Emery singled out McClellin as a model for future selections. McClellin was Emery’s first-ever draft choice at No. 19 overall last season.

At the time, the pick drew scrutiny because McClellin was viewed by many draft observers as more of an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme. But the Bears plugged in McClellin as a defensive end with his hand on the ground, and he responded with 2½ sacks and 14 quarterback pressures in 14 games as a rookie.

“We want players that transcend schemes,” said Emery, who also could trade down from No. 20 to gain extra picks. “Those are the best players to get, that have the most flexibility. …

“The reason Shea is an important player and the reason we picked him where we did was because he had versatility as a player. He can do a lot of things. We’re looking for those types of players: Players that are high-end, dynamic athletes that can do a lot of things.”

McClellin wants to take a leap forward as a second-year player. He said he shed fat and gained five to seven pounds of muscle this offseason, which now puts him at 258 pounds.

At that playing weight, McClellin could remain in his role as a pass-rushing defensive end or become a rover on defense who could create matchup problems. He said he has worked exclusively at defensive end so far this spring, but he was willing to fill any role.

“You never know,” said McClellin, who played both linebacker and defensive end during college at Boise State. “I could be doing something else, but for now I’m playing D-end.”

According to his coaches, he is playing the position quite well.

McClellin will “get what he earns,” as Tucker said Wednesday, and that very well could mean more snaps on defense.

The Bears’ group of defensive ends also includes Peppers, Corey Wootton, Turk McBride, Cheta Ozougwu and Aston Whiteside.

It’s possible that Israel Idonije could return to the Bears, but for now he remains an unrestricted free agent. Idonije registered 7½ sacks opposite Peppers last season, and McClellin could help to fill the veteran’s void if he does not return.

Tucker seems to think that McClellin is capable.

“He’s athletic,” Tucker said. “He’s got pass-rush ability. He’s very conscientious about getting better each and every day.

“I saw the ability on tape, and I see it here on the practice field. I’m very encouraged.”

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