By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) Henry Melton would not let anyone drive him home.
When the Bears returned to Halas Hall early Monday morning, the distraught defensive tackle was intent on getting himself home, despite the fear that his left ACL was torn.
“I wanted to make sure he got home safe,” head coach Marc Trestman said. “He was driving by himself. He wouldn’t allow anybody to drive him home.”
So the head coach kept in touch with his Pro-Bowl defensive tackle all the way home.
“I talked with him while he drove home last night,” Trestman said. “From my car, I texted with him when we got home. I was with him and his mother this morning here in the training room. He’s terribly disappointed.”
The news was not good Monday morning. An MRI showed that Melton suffered a torn ACL and his agent Jordan Woy tweeted that the defensive tackle would be out until at least May or June.
Thus, the long term question is: Will Melton, who was playing on the one-year franchise tag this season, be a Bear next year?
Of course, the more immediate question for the Bears is: Who is going to fill the void at the all-important three-technique in the Bears’ Tampa-2 scheme?
Fortunately, the Bears have options on their own roster. To be frank, backup Nate Collins has played better than Melton since the first day of training camp, although he was certainly aided by Melton missing most of the preseason with a concussion.
Still, Collins has pushed for more playing time and was already a regular in the defensive line rotation. Both he and Stephen Paea, who has been the best defensive lineman on the team through three games, can play both tackle positions effectively and ends Corey Wootton and Julius Peppers are often shifted over to the three-technique on passing downs.
Anytime a significant player goes down with a season-ending injury, the immediate reaction is to look to free agency to fill the void. The problem with that, however, is that anyone worth signing in Week 3 of the regular season is already on another roster. Who are you going to sign? Hey, maybe Sedrick Ellis will come out of retirement if the Bears don’t make him take the conditioning test.
Sure, the Bears will likely work some players out at Halas Hall and maybe they’ll find something they like, but they also like what’s already on the roster. Undrafted free agent Zach Minter made this team for a reason and he’ll likely dress for the first time this season next week and see the field. The Bears also have Aston Whiteside available on their practice squad. He’s an end who could at least help the depth if Wootton and Peppers need to play inside more.
Remember, when Kelvin Hayden went down with a torn Achilles in training camp, the Bears didn’t go out and sign anyone. They immediately promoted second-year cornerback Isaiah Frey to be their No. 1 nickel back.
So how badly will the Bears miss Henry Melton? That depends on which Melton they lost. Did they lose the Pro Bowler from 2012 or the guy who didn’t make much of an impact through two and a half games this season?
There’s a lot more evidence pointing to the latter. And while there’s little doubt the injury hurts the depth at the position, it also may have put the more effective player (Nate Collins) on the field for more snaps.