It took Henry Melton just one play to show the rest of the world why Bears coaches have anointed him the starter at defensive tackle. He replaces longtime middleman Tommie Harris, who was let go this offseason, at the 3-technique or under tackle spot – said to be the most-important position in the Cover 2 defense. It's a system that relies on the front four, and not the blitz, to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. The under tackle provides that crucial pressure in the quarterback's face, forcing rushed throws, the main building block of turnovers.
Melton came charging out of the gate, slicing threw the offensive line on the first play of the game. He split the opposing linemen again three plays later, dropping the running back for a three-yard loss. Later in the first quarter, Melton was able to use his strength to leverage off the defender and move parallel to the line of scrimmage, taking down the ball carrier with a lineman hanging on his back.
A former running back during his freshman season at Texas, Melton was shuffled back and forth between defensive end and tackle his first two years in Chicago. He packed on more than 20 pounds this offseason to beef up for full-time duties at tackle.
DT Henry Melton
"I'm still messing with [my weight]," Melton said. "That was a good test today to see where I was at with coming off [the ball] and how I was taking on the blocks. But I still feel like I'm at a good spot, especially with my weight. So I'm feeling good right now."
Despite never having lined up as the starter at defensive tackle at any level in his career, Melton wasn't surprised at how well he performed.
"No I wasn't surprised. I know what I can do. The coaches believe in me," he said. "I was just trying to carry over the things I was doing in practice."
His play tonight is no surprise to those of us who have watched him practice the past few weeks. Melton is by far the team's quickest tackle off the ball and just as strong as the rest of the five DTs on the roster.
Another defensive tackle who impressed last night was Amobi Okoye, whom the Bears signed in free agency this offseason. Okoye shows good explosion at the snap and has very quick, nimble feet. He uses his hands well to disengage from blockers and gets good push up front. He finished the game with team's only two sacks.
"You saw the natural ability [Okoye] has: the explosiveness, the ability get vertical in the pocket," said teammate Israel Idonije. "I'm just excited to see him get in there and make some plays and disrupt. I mean that's what we expect of him."
While those two were impressive up front, safety Major Wright played a very nice game on the back end. He was in for just two series yet led the team with five tackles. Last season, he didn't miss a single tackle and he appears to have picked up right where he left off. His support in the run game should help lower the opposing team's chances of ripping off big gainers on the ground.
"Right now I feel like there is a progress, me getting better every week and every day. That's my main focus," Wright said. "Making open-field tackles, making great breaks on the ball, playing the ball more."
Wright missed time early last year, his rookie year, due to injury but earned a good number of game reps in the season's second half. He's progressed well in practice this offseason and finally seems comfortable in his new role as the team's starting free safety.
"Major played a lot last year so he's comfortable with the defense," teammate Tim Jennings said. "He played well, made tackles in space and that's what he's here for."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.