Henry Melton played his first few seasons in the NFL at defensive end for the Chicago Bears. Last year, he rotated some at defensive tackle and the coaches were impressed by his quickness inside. They felt that, if he could put on weight in the offseason, he could be the team's next under tackle.
Melton came into camp this year noticeably bigger than the 265 pounds he carried in 2010. The team lists him at 295 in the media guide but on film, and up close, it's obvious that's a bit of a stretch. If he's 285 pounds, I'd be very surprised. He looks like he's more in the 275-280 range right now.
This becomes more obvious on the field, where Melton dwarfs in comparison to the massive offensive guards across from him. He still shows the explosiveness off the ball that had everyone so excited in training camp but he's just not big enough to matchup with bigger offensive linemen. More often than not this year, Melton has been swallowed up inside, unable to hold his ground and shed blocks.
He is tied for second on the team with 3.0 sacks but two of those came in the season opener. Since then, he's struggled. He only has nine total tackles on the season and is being outplayed by Stephen Paea and Amobi Okoye. Paea especially has been impressive and appears much better suited, with his wide base and powerful upper body, to play the under tackle.
DT Henry Melton
The Bears are expected to be 100 percent healthy heading into Monday night's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. That means NT Matt Toeaina will return from a knee injury that has keep him out since Week 6. Toeaina will rotate with Anthony Adams at nose tackle. Bears coaches have already said that Paea has earned more reps, so it's unlikely they will de-active him, as they did for the season's first five weeks. And why would they? He's the most-impressive defensive lineman on the team right now. It's unlikely the coaches will sit Okoye either, who has been solid for most of the year and is tied with Melton for the second-most sacks on the team.
Yet Chicago doesn't have that same type of depth at the defensive end position. Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije have been solid – although both have slightly underachieved – but beyond those two, the pickings have been slim. Second-year player Corey Wootton was outstanding in training camp but hasn't been the same since injuring his knee in the preseason opener. In fact, since recovering well enough to play, the Bears have activated him in just one contest.
Behind him are Nick Reed and Mario Addison. With Wootton out and Peppers dealing with a knee injury that past two weeks, both Addison and Reed have gotten plenty of reps on the field. Unfortunately for the team, neither has done anything with them and both look like they could be cut at any time.
The team has been so desperate at defensive end that they have been occasionally sliding Melton outside the past three games. While he hasn't been amazing off the edge, he's looked better there than he has at defensive tackle – where interior offensive linemen are consistently having their way with him. It appears Melton's quickness and size, which is closer to 265 than 295, suits him much better when rushing from the outside. And against the run, he's shown better awareness in tracking ball carriers from the end position.
The Bears have four interior defenders they are happy with, yet are dangerously thin at end. It's time to use Melton's versatility to their advantage. He should no longer be included in the tackle rotation – which typically utilizes just four players each game. Instead, he needs to work exclusively in the rotation at defensive end. He won't be asked to start, so he can slowly work his way back into his old position. The more reps he gets on the edge, the more comfortable he'll become, which should lead to an uptick in production.
Having too many quality defensive tackles is a good problem to have, especially when one of those players has experience at defensive end. Right now, it doesn't appear as if Wootton, Addison or Reed will be on the roster next year. As such, the team should quit messing around with those three and give Melton a shot to be a difference maker on the outside. At the very least, he won't be worse than those three have been so far this season, and he could end up getting his groove back at end.
A fundamental approach every football coach should follow is to play the best players on the roster at positions in which they can succeed. Melton is better than Wootton, Addison and Reed, and has experience on the edge. With the glut of tackles inside, this seems like a no-brainer.
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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.