LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears' brass talked up defensive tackle Henry Melton throughout the offseason, basically predicting the 2011 season would serve as the third-year veteran’s coming-out party.
Surely the club didn’t expect the festivities to include just two tackles in four October showings. That’s why Bears coach Lovie Smith sat down Melton on Thursday at Halas Hall to inform the defensive tackle the team needs more production.
“I mentioned that to Henry,” Smith said. “He hasn’t showed up as much. Whether teams have adjusted to him or whatever, we need to get more production from him because he’s capable of it.”
Melton certainly lived up to the team’s high billing early on in the season. As the under tackle in the Bears’ 4-3 defensive front, Melton pumped out three tackles in his Sept. 11 debut as a starter against Atlanta to go with two sacks and six quarterback pressures. Two weeks later, Melton contributed another sack and a pair of quarterback pressures.
But over the past four weeks, the production has plummeted. Credited with 10 pressures in the team’s last four games, Melton made just two tackles in that span while being held to no sacks. The defensive tackle said he agreed with Smith’s assessment, adding that their conversation provided motivation.
“We just talked,” Melton said. “There were high expectations of me coming into the season. I started off -- a great start -- and I’ve just been close the last few weeks. I haven’t made the plays I made at the start, and I’ve just got to make the plays. Sometimes I get double teamed a little bit more, but there’s still no excuse. [The conversation] shows that [Smith] believes that I can do it, and that everyone wants me to do it.”
Throughout the spring of 2011, with the team in the midst of the NFL lockout, Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo openly discussed the impact they expected Melton to make with an increased amount of snaps. The Bears thought so highly of Melton they released longtime stalwart Tommie Harris, and eventually elevated Melton to the starting lineup.
Melton played all 16 games last season as a reserve defensive lineman, and racked up 17 tackles, and 2 1/2 sacks, in addition to knocking down a pass, forcing a fumble and recovering a fumble.
Melton said he’s searching for the non-stop motor of 2010 that initially caught the coaching staff’s eye when he played as a backup.
“Your mindset doesn’t change [when going from a reserve to starter], but I guess if you look at the film, it looks like some plays you’re not sprinting as hard as you were when you were getting limited snaps,” Melton said. “I’ve been just trying to work as hard as I was last year when I was coming in getting limited snaps. I would just go out there and run as hard as I could. That’s what I’m trying to work on now.”
Smith expects the bye-week layoff to provide somewhat of a reset for Melton. As the penetrating three-technique playing on the interior of the defense, Melton plays a significant role in how the team plays the run and pressures quarterbacks.
So Smith wants Melton to kick up his game to the level at which he played in Week 1.
“Sometimes when you have this break, you get recharged a little bit,” Smith said. “We need Henry to come back the way he started the season off. In order for us to do things this next part of our season, our defensive line has to really take off. Henry is a big part of that.”