Last Monday, news was broke of Pro Bowl DT Henry Melton's season ending after tearing the ACL of his left knee on Sunday Night at Pittsburgh. In an incident that involved absolutely no foul-play, his knee buckled and gave in awkwardly while he was trying to beat an OL off his block. Alas, his season is done, and this only compounds issues for a DL unit that has registered only 2 sacks in the first 3 games so far into the season. While many wondered if Nate Collins is the man to step in for Melton, a slightly different plan may be in the works. John Mullin, among others, is reporting he indeed will be starting: at NT. "Where is Stephan Paea", one fan may worry themselves about, yet as Moon explains below:
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.
This move could very well be the best any team under these circumstances would make. Back in 2011, the Bears traded up in the 2nd round to land Paea with the intention of beefing their DT rotation up not necessarily with size, but with brute strength. Although his primary position has been NT so far into his NFL career, he's always had the physical makeup that could translate into being a great 3-tech. Although he's not as athletic as Henry Melton, Stephan Paea is so strong, he simply overpowers OGs much larger than he is. Additionally, he's not exactly a lethargic beast either, being timed under a respectable 4.9 in the combine.
Using stats from the combine like the bench-press and 40-yard dash are never the best way to judge an NFL prospect, and quite frankly, Stephan Paea has proven he offers more than a record-breaking effort in the bench-press contest. One important stat to note--which was noted by John Mullin in the same article linked above--Paea has been the Bears' most effective pass-rusher or "Rush Man" offered by the struggling DL. He, Paea, is the Bears' leader in QB pressures with 6, a number that Mullin mentioned is 3x greater than any other DL on their current depth chart. Although he hasn't recorded a sack yet, he's been pretty darn close to getting a few. Furthermore, he's a sound run-stuffer, tied for 2nd on the DL with 6 combined tackles (4 solos, 2 for loss). The only DL who's recorded more: Nate "Big Nasty" Collins with 7. This presents the Bears an opportunity to have all of their most productive DL on the field at the same time. Stephan Paea takes over the 3-tech position, and Nate Collins fills in at NT.
Henry Melton has been a fantastic and tremendous player for the Bears, someone who made us virtually forget all about Tommie Harris. Ironically, he's in a position to suffer a similar fate, having to endure his ACL being torn during a year under the Franchise Tag. He may never be the same player again, or, he may return stronger than ever. That, is up for the Football God (da Coach) to decide. Nevertheless, the Chicago Bears are more than prepared to account for the loss, with a player that has been the unsung hero on the DL. Stephan Paea, the time and 3-tech position, is now yours.