Melton loss puts major dent in depth

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
1:27
PM ET
Wearing sunglasses and a ball cap pulled down tightly Sunday night, a dejected Henry Melton hobbled out of the locker room after the Chicago Bears bested the Pittsburgh Steelers 40-23 at Heinz Field.

Approximately 12 hours later, back in Chicagoland, a dire diagnosis of a torn ACL puts Melton out for the season and the Bears into grind mode to somehow add depth at the position.

“It’s tough. We’re gonna have to rally,” defensive end Julius Peppers said. “Other guys gonna have to step their game up a little bit and try to fill that void.”

In the next-man-up world of the NFL, fourth-year veteran Nate Collins, who has been one of the defensive line's most consistent players, receives first crack to play in Melton’s spot opposite Stephen Paea. Both are capable of playing either tackle spot, and given that Collins might be a tick quicker than Paea, it’s likely he’ll play the three-technique position while Paea stays at the nose.

Still, there’s a good chance general manager Phil Emery is spending Monday on the phone with agents trying to set up Tuesday workouts with free agents as the Bears explore the possibility of adding depth. Defensive end Corey Wootton is capable of moving inside to tackle where he can contribute as a rotational player, and the team could ramp up the repetitions of second-year veteran Shea McClellin at defensive end. Wootton has seen spot duty inside at tackle as a situational player when defensive coordinator Mel Tucker tries to deploy all four of his best pass-rushers on the field at the same time.

So it’s likely the Bears could go that direction. Undrafted free agent Zach Minter is an unlikely option, too. But they’d still probably want to add at least one more player capable of playing significant snaps because the Bears like to utilize a rotation to keep everyone fresh. Even if Chicago finds suitable depth (which is highly unlikely), make no mistake about the significance of losing Melton.

Designated the franchise player (a tag that carries a guaranteed salary of $8.45 million), Melton entered Sunday’s game ranked second among defensive tackles in sacks (13) since 2011, and the thought was at his age (26), he was entering his prime. Melton hadn’t quite returned to form through his first three outings, but the club knows it lost a valuable commodity in the Pro Bowl defensive tackle, because his spot is arguably the most important cog in making the team’s scheme go.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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