The question for the Bears defense and coordinator Mel Tucker is now whether they will replace three-technique Henry Melton with Nate Collins, Stephen Paea, Julius Peppers or anyone else. The simple fact is that all of them and more will “replace” the Pro Bowl defensive tackle, lost for the year with a torn ACL.
The Bears have used 41 different defensive “lineups” through three games. They have used a blizzard of defensive fronts already and there is zero reason to expect that to change now, having nothing to do with Melton.
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Bears opponents have run 174 plays this season. The Bears defended 101 of them without Melton on the field, according to the NFL Game Statistics and Information System.
Peppers has moved from end to tackle in some alignments, and coaches have given him the freedom to call those shifts himself. Corey Wootton started two games at left end, Shea McClellin the other. All three ends have been on the field together in various personnel packages.
Collins has been in as part of multiple groupings and is expected to see the most significant uptick in workload. He was the highest-graded Bears defensive player at any position in preseason, according to ProFootballFocus.com evaluations, with a team-high two sacks.
Notably for the current situation, Collins started in San Diego and Oakland and played substantially more preseason snaps than any other defensive lineman.
“He’s an active player, he’s got a good motor, he’ll mix it up in there, he’s a finisher, so we’re lucky to have Nate right now,” said coach Marc Trestman. “And we’ll continue to try to piece together our front with the guys we have.”