Bears

Dominant duo: Peppers, Melton strong in opener

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Dominant duo: Peppers, Melton strong in opener

Monday, Sept. 12, 2011
Posted: 10:26 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
The Atlanta Falcons ran 52 pass plays, 47 on which Matt Ryan got rid of the ball and five that ended in sacks. Besides the sacks, the Bears were credited with 11 quarteback hits.

Meaning: On nearly one-third of his pass plays, a Chicago Bear visited violence upon his person.

Refining this a little more: Eight of the hits were provided by the tandem of end Julius Peppers (1) and tackle Henry Melton (7). Each had two sacks.

Doing the math, 12 times one of the pair was hitting Ryan. Melton also found time to collect two tackles for loss and Peppers one.

It was, pure and simple, one of the most dominant games by a defensive endtackle tandem in recent Bears history. It was what the Bears hoped was coming last year with Peppers re-igniting Tommie Harris career fires.

It is also potentially the most significant defensive indicator for the 2011 Bears.

The linchpin positions

GM Jerry Angelo identifies three true franchise positions, the ones that individually can dictate the outcome of games: quarterback, running back and a pass-rushing defensive lineman.

Added to that is the importance in the Lovie SmithRod Marinelli CoverTampa-2 scheme of the so-called three-technique position, the under-tackle that the defense is designed to face single blocking or force offensive adjustments to blunt in order to prevent pockets from collapsing.

The Bears invested historic millions to secure Peppers as the franchise pass rusher. When Harris was found to be at the end of his effectiveness, the need spiked for the inside rush threat that makes this and virtually any scheme succeed.

Melton flashed glimpses of potentially being that answer in 2010. When he built himself up with 25 pounds of muscle without losing speed or quickness this offseason, the Bears believed theyd found their three-technique.

The signs were there last season, little ones at first. CSNChicago.com first reported that Peppers and Melton were given license to switch positions (and yes, it was Peppers call) if the matchups created opportunities.

Theyre at it again. A number of the pressures on Ryan came from Melton at end and Peppers inside (Peppers also switches sides with other-end Israel Idonije).

Thats just an agreement we make on the field, Peppers said. We all have that ability; if we feel like somebodys playing well and something might work, we just take it upon ourselves and just rush.

Dance feverish

If Melton is going to have many more games like this (that would in fact be the Bears plan), hell have to put some time in on his moves. Not the ones before the sacks; the ones afterwards. Melton is an athletic 295 pounds but his post-sack routines of Sunday wont land him on Dancing with the Stars anytime soon.

I need to work on my dance, Melton admitted. That was pretty terrible today. I didnt really have anything prepared so I started skipping at one point. That wasnt good. I just need to start with the dance. Then Ill name it.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

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USA TODAY

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
2. John Timu
3. Joel Iyiegbuniwe

1. Roquan Smith
2. Nick Kwiatkoski
3. Jonathan Anderson

1. How good can Roquan Smith be?

Making sweeping observations from shorts-and-helmets practices in OTAs is often a fool’s errand, but Smith looked the part while running around the practice fields of Halas Hall after being drafted in April. His quickness and instinctiveness stood out — as they did at Georgia — and his football intelligence and work ethic were praised by coaches and teammates. 

“He’s learning well,” Trevathan said. “He’s doing a good job of learning. He’s learning the little things that you need to learn in this defense. Now it’s all about putting on a show and going out there and rocking.”

And that’s what’s going to be fun to watch in Bourbonnais: How does Smith play with the pads on? Chances are, the answer to that question will be “well,” setting the eighth overall pick on a path to being a mainstay of this defense for years to come. 

That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have plenty on which to work during training camp. But he left Georgia as a sort of “safe bet” in the draft, and nothing he’s done to this point has changed the view of him that he’s likely going to be a good one. 

2. Can Danny Trevathan stay healthy?

In terms of size and athleticism, Trevathan and Smith profile similar to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, the inside linebacking tandem that was the spine of the San Francisco 49ers defense during Fangio’s time there. But for Trevathan and Smith to reach that lofty bar — or even to come close to it — Trevathan needs to be more available than he was his first two years with the Bears.

This isn’t questioning Trevathan’s toughness — far from it. That he returned for Week 1 of the 2017 season 10 months after rupturing his patellar tending (an injury that can be a career-ender) was impressive, and that he was immediately productive upon returning was even more extraordinary. But Trevathan missed three games in November due to a strained calf, and coupled with a one-game suspension and the seven games he missed in 2016, the 28-year-old has only played in 21 of 32 games since signing with the Bears. 

Trevathan is confident he can improve his production in 2018, given he wasn’t able to participate in last year’s offseason program practices. He’s entering his third year in Fangio’s defense and feels better prepared after going through OTAs and minicamps this year. It’s just now about him staying on the field to make sure that work pays off.

“I’m more comfortable with this defense, I’m more comfortable with the guys and the calls that we make,” Trevathan said. “I take pride in being correct and working my tail off and making the defense better. And the more that I can be out there — which I plan on being out there a lot — it’s going to help us tremendously.” 

3. How big a role will Nick Kwiatkoski have?

The Bears didn’t draft Smith because they felt like they absolutely needed to upgrade over Kwiatkoski, who’s acquitted himself well in 25 games since being picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. But Kwiatkoski has dealt with some injury issues, and for as solid a player as he may be, the Bears’ defense needed (and still needs) more great players. Drafting Smith gave the Bears a shot at adding a great player.

It also leaves Kwiatkoski in the same spot he was in a year ago, when the Bears entered the 2017 season with Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as their unquestioned starting inside linebackers. Smith still has to earn that starting spot, but the safe bet is he will, relegating Kwiatkoski again to reserve duties.

And that’s a positive for the overall health of this defense, having a player good enough to start ready to play if needed. But it also raises this question: What do the Bears do with Kwiatkoski if he’s one of their four best linebackers, but isn’t one of their two best inside linebackers? 

So for the purposes of watching training camp practices, seeing if Kwiatkoski gets any reps at outside linebacker will be an interesting storyline to follow. 

Bears shutout in poll of NFL's best starters under 25

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USA Today

Bears shutout in poll of NFL's best starters under 25

Maybe this is what happens when a team is coming off a 5-11 season and has won only 14 games over three years. Maybe it's just another example of the Chicago Bears being overlooked and underrated. Regardless of the 'why,' a recent poll of NFL experts has provided more fuel for the Bears in 2018.

ESPN's Field Yates asked 43 insiders and former players for their list of the top under-25-year-old starters in the NFL and not a single Chicago Bear made the cut.

No Jordan Howard. No Mitchell Trubisky. No Allen Robinson.

Not a single Bear.

The most shocking omission is Howard, who finished second in the NFL in rushing in 2016 and sixth last year despite facing defenses that focused their entire game plan on stopping him every single week. At only 23 years old, he's clearly one of the top young running backs in the NFL and warranted a spot on this list. 

Instead, the Rams' Todd Gurley, Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott and Giants rookie Saquon Barkley got the nod.

Howard has more rushing yards than Gurley over the last two seasons and trails Elliott by only 179. Barkley has yet to take a snap in the NFL.

The Bears were recently named the most underrated team in the league heading into 2018 and this is just another piece of evidence justifying that claim. A winning season will change the national perception of players like Howard, who with another year of high-end production should find himself at or near the top of many of these lists next offseason.