It’s August.  When the hell did that happen?  The baseball trade deadline has passed meaning we’re pretty much set with the on-the-field product on both side of town from here on out and in both instances unfortunately I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.  So my attention has begun to stray to the happenings in Bourbonnais here of late.  We’re in week two of training camp at this point and my biggest regret is in not finding a sports book that would take my money that the Alshon Jeffery has turned a corner in year 2 story would be written by now, or that the Kyle Long is behind but making progress angle would have already been covered.  Is it too late to predict a phantom injury striking Marquess Wilson landing him on IR for an essential red shirt year this season?  How about calling the Henry Melton has three sacks in the first two games – is this finally his big breakout…. (Oh, wait he does that every year) article?  Will anyone give me even odds on either of these scenarios playing out? 

I think it’s going to be an interesting year on Chicago’s gridiron where I could get talked into a 6-10 record as easily as 10-6 when it’s all said and done.  No matter what, I think it’s going to be a bit of a transition year given the new coaching staff and all the one-year contracts on the roster.  Because of that I got to thinking about which Bear needs to produce this season in order for the 2013/14 campaign to be considered a success.

The boys at 670AM (The Score) beat me to this idea back in July and ranked the top ten most important Bears heading into this season.  While their collective rankings are well thought out and valid I think I would disagree with their list.  In fact my most important Bear didn’t even crack their top ten. 

To be fair, I think The Score and I have a slightly different set of criteria in coming up with our rankings as mine is a bit more of a meta view of the team, looking for meaning at a 10,000 ft perspective.  For my money, I think Shea McClellin means far more to the future of the Bears organization than anyone on the roster, and thus his performance in year two is that from which I will gauge success.

McClellin was the 19th pick in last year’s draft but more importantly he was the first pick of the new Phil Emery regime in Chicago.  I wrote about it at the time but he certainly was not the consensus best player available amongst the fan base on draft day.  With a glaring need for help on the defensive line and players such as Chandler Jones & Whitney Mercilus still on the board, fans and commentators alike were all taken aback as the famously 4-3 Tampa 2 defense of the Bears appeared to be a poor fit for a player who many assumed would find a role as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.  He seemed like the proverbial square peg trying to fit in a round hole to be honest, but Phil and the newly arrived brain trust continued to rave about his raw speed and athleticism telling everyone who would listen about Shea’s capabilities playing “with his hand in the dirt.”

This was a new age for the Bears and McClellin served as a very clear reminder that there was a new sheriff in town calling the shots.  In hindsight we all should have paid more heed to those who said his selection was a shot across the bow of Lovie Smith as well.  McClellin possessed the speed of Lovie’s signature defense but his skill set translated to a change on the horizon. 

When asked to comment on his first draft after its completion Emery spoke of targeting football players that offered versatility in an ever-changing game.  He wanted to add flexibility to the roster and taking a defensive end in a linebacker’s body sure fits that criteria.

To his credit McClellin did show flashes last year with a spin move that shows promise (but desperately needs a counter move to combat the tackles who are expecting the spin this year), and his ability in coverage did allow for some unique blitzing packages where he would start in a three point stance and then fall off into a zone responsibility.  With that said it’s time to see more from perhaps the defining pick of Emery’s short tenure.  I use the term “defining” with the caveat that it is still early for Emery but McClellin appears to be the proto-type that catches Phil’s fancy as the Bears appeared to reach again with their selection this spring in the form of an overly athletic versatile lineman without a defined position (Kyle Long).  I see a trend here… 

The reason the Bears’ GM position was vacant for Emery’s hiring after the 2011 season is directly attributable to his predecessor’s (Jerry Angelo) failure in the draft year after year.  The fact that none (as in zero) of Angelo’s 1st round picks are still on the roster 1.5 years after his dismissal says everything there is to know about where his failures lie.  If Emery plans to stick around for any length of time he’s going to have to make hay in the draft.  For every Brandon Marshall trade Phil makes, Jerry had a Jay Culter coup.  The biggest area that Emery can set himself apart is with the success of the cost controlled talent pipeline that flows from Radio City Music Hall in late April.     

So yes, I agree that if the Bears are going to do anything this year that involves playing in January big things will have to come from Jay Cutler’s development under Quarterback Whisperer Trestman; Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman & Lance Briggs can’t take a step backwards; the O-line play needs to improve; and one of Alshon Jeffery/Martellus Bennett need to make “the jump” into a legitimate Pro Bowl candidate; but in the big picture I would think that for the health of the organization it’s most important that the new boss’ handpicked poster child shows signs that the organization truly is in good hands going forward.