Bear Report has discussed in detail the current issue the Chicago Bears have at defensive tackle, specifically the 3-technique position, or under tackle. The club has starter Henry Melton – whose 7.0 sacks last season, his first as a full-time DT, ranked third amongst defensive tackles in the NFL – but behind him the cupboard is dangerously bare.
Amobi Okoye filled the backup role admirably last year, racking up 4.0 sacks, yet he bolted for Tampa Bay this offseason. Emery failed to land an established backup in free agency, and avoided the position in the draft, which could severely compromise Chicago's pass rush in 2012.
The team will head into camp this year with five players vying for the backup spot to Melton – Jordan Miller, Ronnie Cameron, Demario Pressley, John McCargo and Nate Collins – who, combined, have one total career start.
The competition in camp should bring out the best in at least one of those players, yet to expect significant production from any of the five is being overly optimistic. The club could still sign a veteran free agent like Tommie Harris, but if they haven't done so already, it's doubtful, barring injury, they'll be bringing anyone else to Bourbonnais.
DT Henry Melton
Brian D. Kersey/Getty
Considering the options, it's very likely the backup 3-technique will be a weak spot on Chicago's roster this season.
Still, with an otherwise talented roster on defense, the club might be able to weather that weakness for one season. Yet more concerning is the lack of a long-term plan at under tackle, which coach Lovie Smith has said is the most important position in his defense.
Melton's contract is up after this season. We asked him during veteran minicamp if the Bears had approached him or his agent about a possible extension.
"Not a lot of talk has been going on," said Melton. "I love Chicago and I want to be here. Hopefully something can get done."
If the two sides aren't talking about an extension now, it would behoove Emery to begin those discussions in the near future.
Recent analysis from Pro Football Focus (PFF) further highlights Melton's value to this roster. PFF recently published one of their signature statistics, Pass Rush Productivity (PRP), weighted over a three-year span for defensive tackles.
"It's a way of determining the most productive pass rushers (as the name implies), looking past total sack numbers to examine the entire amount of pressure a player gets and on how many pass rushes it comes. By weighing hits and hurries as worth 75% of a sack, dividing by the number of times a player rushes the quarterback and then multiplying by 100 you get a shiny, nice number."
In PRP over the last three seasons, Melton ranked 16th amongst all the defensive tackles in the NFL. He has issues defending the run but this analysis shows that, as far as pure pass rushing defensive tackles go, Melton is one of the best in the game.
If he is not offered a long-term deal before next offseason and hits free agency, there will be a lot of teams very interested in his services. So many, in fact, that the market may price Melton out of Chicago's range. He said he wants to stay in the Windy City, but he'll be hard pressed to pass up the money at least one NFL team is going to throw at him.
Melton's departure would leave a gaping hole in the middle of the defensive line that would be nearly impossible to fill. He's 25, is about to enter his prime and plays the most-important position in Chicago's defense. If the Bears wait and force him to earn a new contract, and he blows up this season, the odds they'll be able to re-sign him would become even slimmer.
It's not worth the risk. Get him on the dotted line now and solidify the under tackle spot for many years to come.
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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.