Phil Emery got himself a square peg for a round hole, selecting Shea McClellin to play 4-3 defensive end when anybody and everybody who would listen would tell you that he was better suited to play as a 3-4 outside rush linebacker. The Bears face a major reclamation project to rebuild their 30th ranked defense.
Look at what the Seahawks did with Bruce Irvin, another odd choice from the same draft class as McClellin. Look at the 4-3 hybrid scheme the Seahawks employ and how they moved Irvin to linebacker and the difference it made to their defense. I pulled an article from Deadspin of all places, that describes some of the nuances of the Seahawks’ D. Even though it’s from last season, a lot of it still holds true today:
The Seahawks run a 4-3, the white bread of defensive schemes.
But there’s plenty of note going on in the Seahawks’ 4-3. On rushing downs, the Seahawks switch to something resembling a 3-4: They have four down linemen, but three of them are defensive tackles—big ones, like Alan Branch, Red Bryant, and Brandon Mebane. Together the three weigh 959 pounds. A pass-rushing end, usually Chris Clemons, will stand apart from the three linemen and try to beat the tackle one-on-one. The Seahawks call this man the “Leo,” presumably because it sounds cool.
On third downs or in obvious passing situations, Seattle might throw two Leos into their formation, with rookie phenom Bruce Irvin (who has 4.5 sacks already, despite playing only a third of Seattle’s defensive snaps) playing opposite Clemons (who has 5.5 sacks). Then the Seahawks’ line looks like the “wide nine” everyone talked about with the Eagles last year, except it actually works.
That speaks to the defensive front and might find a role for Shea, or should we call him “Leo” McClellin. Bruce Irvin was another “reach” pick when the Seahawks drafted him with the 15th pick in the 2012 draft, a handful of picks ahead of Shea McClellin. Irvin was thought to be coveted by Lovie Smith, but it was a move to linebacker that he says “saved my career.”
“I tell (linebackers coach) Ken Norton (Jr.) everyday ‘you saved my life. You saved my career making me a linebacker.’ I thank him every day and I just got to keep working hard to make him feel like he made the right decision,” Irvin said.
Irvin led all rookies with 8 sacks in 2012 as a situational pass rusher, but like McClellin, had issues when stepping in for injuries:
However, when Chris Clemons was lost for the remainder of the postseason to an ACL tear against the Washington Redskins, Irvin struggled as an every down defensive end.
The Atlanta Falcons rushed for 167 yards against Seattle’s usually strong rush defense as the undersized Irvin struggled to hold up at the point of attack in the running game.
Sound familiar? The point is that the Seahawks put Irvin in a position to succeed. He didn’t grade out particularly well in 2013’s PFF grades, but he definitely had more of a positive impact than McClellin has made so far.