The Chicago Bears said Monday that defensive tackle Henry Melton will miss the rest of the season with knee injury.
Melton suffered a season-ending torn left anterior cruciate ligament in Sunday night’s 40-23 win at Pittsburgh and will have surgery in a few weeks.
”We lost a very good player,” coach Marc Trestman said. ”Unfortunately, it’s a next-man-up situation where the next guy has got to come up and be ready to play and help our football team. We’re not happy about it, but this is the downside of the National Football League, is players are going to get hurt and the team’s got to respond.”
Melton last year had six sacks, third most by a defensive tackle in the NFL. He was designated Chicago’s franchise free agent after contract negotiations with his agent broke down, and received $8 million for this season. He will be a free agent next season.
”It’s sad,” wide receiver Earl Bennett said. ”I mean any time you see a player go down it’s sad because you don’t know the extent of the injury. And when you’re one of those guys who’s been working hard all offseason, it’s just sad to see him go down.”
Melton had been off to a slow start without a sack, possibly due to another injury. He suffered a concussion on the first play of preseason and did not return until the start of the regular season.
Now the Bears defense, which has produced 11 turnovers in three games to go with three touchdown returns, is looking for a tackle to line up alongside Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers. Former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Nate Collins, who was once a practice squad player for the New York Giants, gets a chance to start at Detroit on Sunday.
Last year Collins made 23 tackles in seven contest, but had no sacks. He had half a sack with the Jaguars in 2011.
”He’s an active player, he’s got a good motor, he’ll mix it up in there, he’s a finisher,” Trestman said of Collins. ”So we’re lucky to have Nate right now. And we’ll continue to try to piece together our front with the guys we have and we’ll decide that over the next 24 hours and decide where we’re going to go for next week.”
Another player who could get playing time is Zach Minter, an undrafted free agent from Montana State who stood out in a couple of preseason games.
Even with Melton healthy, the Bears front four had struggled getting to quarterbacks without blitzing. Last year Chicago was eighth in the league with 41 sacks.
The pass rush stepped up against Pittsburgh, but it came about largely due to blitzes. Middle linebacker D.J. Williams had two sacks against the Steelers and linebacker Lance Briggs one. In 2012, the Bears had three sacks total for the season from the linebackers.
”We’ve been blitzing about a quarter of the time,” Trestman said. ”We probably picked it up a notch, a little more toward a third. Our guys did a good job of disguising and bringing the blitz and we got some hits on Ben (Roethlisberger) with those blitzes and some sacks.”
They also gave up plenty of yardage despite coming up with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Roethlisberger threw for 406 yards, most by a quarterback against Chicago since 2008.
The pass defense will be challenged in Detroit by quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. It can’t help the Bears that cornerback Charles Tillman left Sunday’s game with groin tightness. Tillman had been out of practice prior to the Steelers game due to knee soreness, but made it through his playing time with no knee problems.
”We’re going to be very cautious with him this week,” Trestman said. ”He’ll probably be out on Wednesday and we’ll go through the same progression. But he just tightened up. He was in early this morning, he worked out and got treatment, so we’re optimistic that he’ll be ready to go on Sunday.”