Mark Potash‘s column in the Chicago Sun-Times this morning was a study in contrasts. He first addresses wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, a now rapidly improving player in the Bears offense:
“Wide receiver Alshon’s Jeffery’s 15-yard gain on an end around gave him three of the Bears’ seven longest runs from scrimmage this season. Jeffery also had a 38-yard gain against the Vikings and a 27-yard again against the Lions.”
Jeffery is turning into a potent weapon in the right hands. Those end arounds take a little while to develop but they work against particularly aggressive defenses with players who get caught away from home as they flow with the ball.
Potash, in the same column, also addressed the struggles of defensive end Shea McClelin:
It’s possible Shea McClellin still could become a force as a 4-3 defensive end, but it’s a long shot. Twenty games might seem like too few to make a judgment, but history says you usually know by now.
McClellin and Jeffery were a particularly big roll of the dice for the Bears. General Manager Phil Emery‘s first two picks in the 2012 draft both had one thing in common – their bodies were under-developed. Emery, a former strength and conditioning coach, obviously felt that with the right weight training, both players would develop into their roles. With Jeffery it worked. He’s out muscling defensive backs and, thanks to some good coaching from the Bears staff and some good training with Brandon Marshall, he using leverage to create space and get open.
The Bears haven’t been as lucky with McClellin. His speed is evident to anyone with eyes and he turns the corner on an edge rush as fast as anyone you’ll see. But he just isn’t strong enough to move solid offensive tackles and he doesn’t have the upper body strength needed to hold against the run or to use his hands to create the needed space to work his moves effectively in most passing situations.
Yes, its true. He might still develop and we might not have seen the best McClellin has to offer yet. But Potash is probably right. Just as we’ve seen Jeffery blossom with increased strength and experience, we aren’t seeing the same progress in McClellin. That’s unfortunate because the Bears need him badly with Corey Wooton having moved, at least temporarily, to defensive tackle and with Julius Peppers in a bad slump.
I noted last summer that the development of Emery’s 2012 picks would likely be the key to the 2013 season That has turned out to be the case. As Potash notes, with the Bears beat up on the defensive side of the ball, it’s the offense that has to pick up a bigger part of the burden in the coming weeks. In the same vein, we can only hope that Emery’s apparent success in projecting the development of Jeffery will off set the apparent mistake with projection of McClellin.