Throughout organized team activities and the beginning of minicamp this year, the conversation surrounding the Chicago Bears has centered on the offense.
How is new offensive coordinator Mike Tice going to utilize the weapons at his disposal?
Will Matt Forte get a new contract or sign his franchise tender and show up to participate with his teammates?
What about the offensive line?
To be sure, the ability for the offense to score points and function cohesively is an important question. After all, the Bears play the Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay Packers and Matthew Stafford’s Detroit Lions twice a year. Both of those teams can flat out score and points will be at a premium if the Bears are to compete for the North title.
But the offense is not the key to a division championship.
Henry Melton is.
The Bears need defensive tackle Henry Melton to have an All-Pro year, it is that simple.
For the front seven to dominate in a defense that is structured such as the Bears is, the three-technique MUST draw double teams on nearly every down.
This does three things for the Bears defense:
- Defensive ends Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije and first-round draft pick Shea McClellin won’t face as many offensive line double teams. Opposing offenses will be forced to keep a tight end in or use the running back to chip block.
- It will free up middle linebacker Brian Urlacher to fill gaps and pursue across the line of scrimmage. Urlacher is much more effective when he has the freedom to use his speed.
- Finally, with more pressure from the ends, the Bears secondary, arguably the weakness of the defensive unit will be able to hit their spots and will avoid situations where they have to cover for seven seconds.
Melton, a 2012 Pro Bowl alternate from the University of Texas, finished last year with 24 tackles and seven sacks. Not bad for a three-technique, but not good enough.
After a very strong opening game against the Atlanta Falcons last year, Melton went missing and the Bears lost three out of their next four.
What Lovie and the Bears need from Henry is to create more. He is too athletic to merely occupy the position.
Melton did not force or recover any fumbles last season and that has got to change or the North will eat the Bears up.
Ouch, Week 7 and the head coach wants to know where you went.
When Lovie’s defense works, the three-technique is dominant (think Tommie Harris in ’05), and demands that the offensive line pay attention, freeing up Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Peppers and the other play makers to wreak havoc.
The rewards for the defense will be tangible and it will lead to a NFC North tile and a first-round bye because if the Bears can't corral the Packers and Lions, all bets are off.