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How the Bears plan to replace Henry Melton

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Updated: September 26, 2013 11:12AM



When Henry Melton fell to the ground clutching his left knee Sunday, you could almost hear the Bears repeat one of the most used — and overused — NFL phrases: “Next man up.”

But the “man” to replace Melton — who Monday was diagnosed with a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament — figures to be parts of three:

◆ Nate Collins will make his first career start Sunday in Detroit but has already been an effective part of the Bears’ three-man defensive-tackle rotation. He has played on 47 percent of the defensive downs, at nose tackle and in the three-technique, rushing between the guard and tackle.

◆ Undrafted rookie Zach Minter, who had been ruled inactive the last three weeks, figures to take Collins’ place as the tackle off the bench. He can play the nose and three-technique spots, though his skills skew more toward the latter.

◆ And Corey Wootton, a defensive end who has slid over to the three-technique in nickel packages, could play inside more often.

“No one’s going to go out and do what he does out there,” Minter said Wednesday of Melton, who made the 2012 Pro Bowl and earned a franchise tag but didn’t wow in the first three games. “But when the opportunity presents itself, it’s our job to take advantage — but also step up and play like he’s not missing.”

Coach Marc Trestman said defensive tackles act as one on the field. They have to play the run correctly and know where to go on blitzes, stunts and twists. Collins has done that, Trestman said.

“He’s familiar with what we’re trying to accomplish, and he’s an active player,” Trestman said. “He’s got a high motor, he moves around well and we expect he’ll do well.”

Collins has a relentless mentality, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said.

“He’s got a chip on his shoulder,” he said. “I really like him.”

Collins spoke with Melton — who played 65 percent of the defensive snaps before the injury — this week. Melton told him to embrace the opportunity.

It shouldn’t be a huge change for Collins, who has played in 24 games since 2011.

“I feel like I’m aggressive,” the 6-2, 296-pounder said. “I feel like I may be a little undersized. But in some situations, playing inside that phone booth at nose tackle, it’s an advantage as long as I keep my pads down and use my leverage.”

At 6-6, Wootton knows he needs to stay low when he plays the three-technique, a position he began learning this summer.

“I’ve been preparing for that most of the offseason and training camp, just in case,” he said.

Minter, who one year ago was playing for Montana State, a Football Championship Subdivision team, said the biggest adjustment is learning the margin for error on the field.

“There’s little area to slip up,” he said. “You always want to be on your game.”

Tucker said Minter was getting better and “can help us at some point.”

If that day is Sunday, Minter won’t change his approach.

“When the next man’s up,” he said, “you have to continue to do what you’re doing.”

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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