It was expected that Chicago Bears rookie tackle Gabe Carimi would be healthy enough to play this week against the Philadelphia Eagles. After dislocating his knee in Week 2, the original timetable for recovery had him back on the field for Monday night's contest.
Everything was on schedule through last week. Carimi practiced on a limited basis twice before bye weekend, then suited up and went full go this Thursday.
"It's going to take some good, hard practices and wear him down and get him some endurance in the leg and confidence in the leg," offensive line coach Mike Tice said before Thursday's practice. "Each day he's getting better, taking a lot of plays and also trying to see how he gets up in the morning and see if the leg swells up, see how he bounces back."
Yet the knee didn't respond well and he was forced to sit out Friday's session.
"Gabe put in a good day [Thursday]," coach Lovie Smith said. "His knee was a little sore, so we held him out of practice [Friday]."
T Lance Louis
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
It's looking less likely he'll be able to play on Monday but if he does suit up, he won't be in the starting lineup. After seven weeks of inactivity, it's going to take Carimi, who has just six quarters of NFL experience, some time to get back up to speed.
The coaches have no problem starting the same front five for the third week in a row, a group that has performed well of late. Lance Louis will again start at right tackle in place of Carimi. He's been good but not great on the edge. Tampa Bay DE Michael Bennett worked Louis over in the second half of the London game, exposing his lack of lateral quickness. Louis now faces off against Eagles DE Jason Babin, who already has 9.0 sacks this season. Louis' ability to keep Babin out of the backfield will go a long way toward the success of Chicago's offense.
Melton called out
Lovie Smith, in a rare move this week, called out defensive tackle Henry Melton for his recent lack of production.
"He hasn't showed up as much," Smith said. "Whether teams have adjusted to him or whatever, we need to get more production from him because he's capable of it."
Melton has struggled mightily of late and is getting eaten up inside by opposing guards, particularly against the run. He still flashes great quickness off the ball but he hasn't been able to do it consistently. He picked up 3.0 sacks through the season's first three games and appeared poised to be the team's next dominant under tackle. Yet in the four games since, he has zero sacks and just one total tackle.
"Sometimes you have this break, 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's a big part of that."
Right now, Melton is being outperformed by the four other tackles on the team – Anthony Adams, Matt Toeaina, Amobi Okoye and Stephen Paea. Unless he raises his level of play, and quickly, he'll continue to see less and less time on the field.
Melton played defensive end in college and during his first few years in the NFL. So with the glut the Bears have at defensive tackle, coupled with a lack of depth at end, it only makes sense to slide Melton back outside – a strategy we cover in detail here.
He's played the occasional snap at defensive end the last few games but Chicago's coaches appear set on going forward with him at tackle. One encouraging sign is Melton's seven quarterback pressures the past two games. Turning a few of those into sacks on Monday night would be the first step in turning his season around.
Safeties will be tested
"You've got to approach them just like anybody else you play," Vick said. "Some young guys, they play out of their mind, play lights out football. You can never underestimate them. They are good football players too."
S Major Wright
When asked during his conference call with Bears media whether Philadelphia's offense will be testing Chicago's safeties early in Monday's game, Vick didn't reveal much.
"It all depends on what our game plan calls for. I can't let you in on all of that."
Yet there was a smile in Vick's voice that said more than his words indicated. Yes, the Eagles will be throwing deep early and often, it said. With the speed they possess on the outside with receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, they'll be looking to exploit the most-inexperienced area of Chicago's defense.
"If you look at [Philadelphia's offense], they push the field vertically," said Conte. "It's definitely something that you're concerned about."
In his first two career starts, Conte did a good job of keeping the opposing offense in front of him and not allowing the big play down the field. Yet the Eagles' passing attack presents a much tougher challenge than either Tampa Bay or Minnesota.
"It's going to be a challenge but I think if we keep the ball in front of us we'll be all right," Conte said.
A potentially more-daunting task might be trying to tackle running back LeSean McCoy in the open field. This is especially so for Wright, who has missed a number of tackles so far this season. McCoy is lightning quick with moves that remind one of Barry Sanders. As the last line of defense, both safeties need to be fundamentally sound – taking proper angles, breaking down and wrapping up – when tackling McCoy.
We'll have a much better idea of whether or not Conte and Wright are the future at safety after Monday night's contest.
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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.