By Adam Hoge-
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — It was just one preseason game, but after Shea McClellin struggled last week against the Eagles, it’s fair to wonder how patient the Bears will be with their defensive end-turned-linebacker.
“Does the sky fall after one preseason game? I can’t do that,” linebackers coach Reggie Herring said Monday after the Bears’ second-to-last practice in Bourbonnais.
The coaching staff hasn’t budged on its support for McClellin at linebacker and their actions back that up. Despite getting a little less work Monday because the defense played a lot of nickel, McClellin was still the No. 1 strong-side linebacker when the base defense was on the field.
“He’s had an excellent camp, a nice OTAs,” Herring said. “He moves as good as any of these other linebackers. He’s made plays as good as any backer out here.”
There’s no question about McClellin’s speed and athleticism — that has been on display in practice for three years now. Translating it to games has been the issue and last week’s preseason opener against the Eagles was no exception. Still, the Bears believe McClellin possesses the tools to be an effective linebacker and they are going to let him prove that by gaining experience throughout the preseason.
“It’s a matter of game experience, playing fast and adjusting to certain things he hasn’t seen in a couple years,” Herring said. “It’s got to be a process and I think by the end of the training camp here, I think everything will be fine.”
In other words, the Bears are still being patient — for now. It’s a simple reality that the regular season starts in 27 days. Time is running out.
“At the end of the day, you can either hunt or you can’t,” Herring said. “Football is football. You’re either physical or you’re not.”
Special Teams Fallout
Another area of concern after the preseason opener was the poor special teams performance.
“We didn’t play very well,” special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said Monday. “We had a lot of miscues. It’s disappointing, as practice has been going well. We felt like it was a good training camp up to this point.”
DeCamillis said most of the problems were due to one or two players making a mistake. Part of the issue was that there were so many players rotating in and out as the coaches want to see all of their options.
“It’s what I like to call an evidence-based decision,” DeCamillis said. “We got some evidence off of that one and we’ll use it.”
Head coach Marc Trestman said they are looking for eight core special-teamers to emerge, and he feels like the effort level has been amped up this week.
“We’re looking for eight core guys to play special teams and the next two and three weeks are going to be critically important to that, so the guys are feeling that now and I think it will help us as we move into Thursday night,” Trestman said.
Peanut Looks Like Peanut
Cornerback Charles Tillman and wide receiver Brandon Marshall have had some great battles in practice over the last three years and Monday was no exception. Tillman had a nice pass breakup on Marshall early in practice and appeared to have another one later in red zone drills, but Marshall managed to keep the ball in the air and pull it down for an impressive touchdown catch.
One of the quieter takeaways from training camp is that Tillman looks like his usual, reliable self. Coming off a nagging knee injury and a torn triceps that ended his season prematurely last year, the 33-year-old doesn’t seem to be slowed down at all. The Bears brought Tillman back on a one-year contract despite drafting cornerback Kyle Fuller in the first round, and if Tillman plays anything like he has during his 11-year NFL career, the Bears are going to have a deep group of corners this season.
Observations From Practice
- Brandon Marshall took punt returns in practice Monday, which prompted DeCamillis to say: “Brandon Marshall tends to get involved in some drills that he shouldn’t be in.”
- In the battle for the No. 3 wide receiver, both Michael Spurlock and Eric Weems took significant reps with the first-team offense. Josh Morgan got a few reps as well.
- Running back Michael Ford made a nice one-handed grab on a beautiful short touch pass by Jordan Palmer. Ford has been surprisingly low on the running back depth chart throughout camp.
- Lance Briggs got a day off, which meant more work for second-year linebacker Khaseem Greene. Jerry Franklin was also more involved and had a nice practice.
- D.J. Williams gets credit for the hit of the day, even though he’s not allowed to hit. The linebacker came shooting through the middle of the offensive line and stopped running back Shaun Draughn cold in the backfield. Because he’s not allowed to hit, he pulled up at the last second, but had it been a game, Draughn would have been flat on his back.
- Jimmy Clausen won the day in the battle of the backup quarterbacks, mainly because Palmer threw two interceptions. Safety Chris Conte picked Palmer off in the end zone and later, defensive end Willie Young pulled in an interception at the line of scrimmage.
Right tackle Jordan Mills (sore left foot), cornerback Isaiah Frey (hamstring), wide receiver Chris Williams (hamstring), offensive lineman Eben Britton (hamstring) and offensive lineman Brian de la Puente (sprained MCL) all sat out practice.
Practice was delayed 30 minutes because of rain Monday morning and was moved to Ward Field, which had brand new field turf installed this summer. It was the first practice held at Olivet Nazarene’s football stadium since Marc Trestman became the head coach. 4,000 fans were in attendance.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for 87.7 The Game and TheGameChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.