The task of replacing Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton beginning Sunday against the Detroit Lions will involve a “committee” approach in keeping with the Bears’ philosophy of rotation. But the one major change is expected to be moving Stephen Paea from his spot at nose tackle over to Melton’s three-technique position, and inserting Nate Collins at nose.
Indeed, Paea was perhaps drafted for precisely this moment.
The Bears traded up in the second round of the 2011 draft to grab Paea, one of the strongest players in the draft. As one member of the previous staff said, you do not trade up for nose tackles in the Lovie Smith scheme.
You do, however, go after disruptive three-techniques, the tackle the defense schemes to have in one-on-one situations as much as possible, rather than the nose tackle, whose job it frequently is to occupy double teams.
“The best thing about it is that he keeps getting better and understanding how teams are trying to attack him, and where his spaces are, where he can take advantage of those spaces,” said linebacker Lance Briggs. “Stephen is definitely an elite-company type player.”
Even from his nose-tackle spot, Paea has been arguably the Bears’ best defensive lineman through three games. His six tackles (four solo, two for loss) are tied for second behind Collins among defensive linemen and his six quarterback pressures are three times what any other defensive lineman has delivered.
“I would not be hesitant or feel any trepidation whatsoever at using him at the ‘three,’” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “He’s got good stoutness in the run game and good quickness. He’s shown the ability to rush and has worked hard on that.
“He’s a guy who is not at his ceiling yet and is very, very driven. Intrinsic motivation, self-starter, and those are guys it a privilege to work with, it really is.”
Paea has been playing at about 292-295 pounds, same as Melton. Collins is slightly heavier and, with the nickname “Big Nasty,” is suited to the nose position. Despite not starting a game this season, Collins leads all Bears defensive linemen with seven tackles.
“I feel like I’m aggressive,” Collins said. “I feel like I may be a little undersized but in some situations, playing inside that phone booth at nose tackle, it’s an advantage as long as I keep my pads down and use my leverage.”