It was a refreshing moment after two seasons in which the unwavering message from the Bears was that practice went well. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio wasn’t happy, and he opted to share his displeasure and let it be disseminated.
‘‘We didn’t start practice very well,’’ he said this week at Halas Hall. ‘‘So I wasn’t real good about that. I’d like to say I feel good.’’
That’s how Fangio feels now about his defense with a Week 1 matchup against the Green Bay Packers coming up Sunday — good, but not too good. He needs and demands more.
And that includes from Shea McClellin, the new signal-caller for his 3-4 defense as one of the starting inside linebackers.
Fangio, coach John Fox and linebackers coach Glenn Pires have rebuilt McClellin into a new player. There’s a new confidence that wasn’t there when he was an undersized 4-3 end for two years or learning strong-side linebacker last season. His path to becoming the voice of the Bears’ new defense was the story from training camp.
‘‘I worked hard to get here,’’ McClellin said.
This could be the season when McClellin finally lives up to some of his high-round potential — or forever falls into NFL-bust oblivion.
For better or worse, he’s about to be thrown to the proverbial wolves.
‘‘It’s Aaron Rodgers,’’ he said.
It simply doesn’t get any better than that at quarterback. For five years, Packers vs. Bears meant Rodgers vs. Brian Urlacher. For the last two, it was Rodgers vs. Lance Briggs. Now, it’s Rodgers vs. McClellin.
‘‘Each and every week will be a challenge,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘I’m confident that he’ll be ready to play. Will it be his best game? I don’t know. But I feel good where Shea is at.’’
Few defenses or players have good games against Rodgers. Despite the calls and adjustments they made, Urlacher and Briggs didn’t exactly prevent Rodgers from posting a 12-3 record and a 106.2 passer rating in 15 career games against the Bears.
Sunday also won’t be the end-all, be-all for McClellin, who was consistently better than his competition since the offseason program. His struggles against the Cincinnati Bengals didn’t prevent the Bears from releasing veteran Mason Foster. It’s not as if Jon Bostic, who has been nagged by injuries, or John Timu, an undrafted rookie, are about to usurp McClellin after one game.
He’s going to be given time to take his lumps against imposing offenses, regardless of how ugly the lumps become. Rodgers’ wizardry will test McClellin’s communication and coverage skills. Packers guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton will test his ability to violently and quickly shed blocks. Running back Eddie Lacy will test his toughness and tackling.
‘‘I’m feeling better,’’ McClellin said. ‘‘It’s a process. You’ve just got to keep building. I feel a lot better than I did in the spring, and just got to keep working and getting better as a team and as a unit.’’
It’s a message often shared. This defense may not be in its infancy, but much has to develop.
‘‘Any time you play a great offense, led by a great quarterback, you’d always like to have a tweak here or there, but our guys may not be ready for that yet,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘So it’s always better for us to know what we’re doing, rather than to try and fool a great quarterback. We might not be able to tweak things as much as we’d like to.’’
Fangio said it’s been a challenge game-planning for the Packers while still adding to his defense.
‘‘Obviously, they’ve been pretty bad here for two straight years defensively,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘We’ve made some changes, but that’s an ongoing process. It’s not an overnight thing. You just have to keep building week to week.’’
Especially with McClellin.
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