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The Bears exceeded even optimistic expectations with their performance against the Falcons, dominating in a 30-12 win Sunday. A potential breakthrough player this season, Bears DT Henry Melton, started off with a fury.
We're only one game into the season, and we have to keep in mind that Melton isn't always going to be able to gear up and tee off on a team that is trying to throw its way back into a game after falling way behind like the Falcons were. Afforded that luxury against Atlanta, Melton made two sacks and had seven of the team's 11 hits on QB Matt Ryan, who dropped back to pass 52 times.
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Melton will double his number of career starts when the Bears play the Saints in Week Two, so he has a long way to go before he's counted as a reliable presence inside.
Be sure of this, though — if Melton is consistently disruptive (he doesn't need a bunch of sacks or quarterback hits, although they certainly help) the interior of the Bears' defensive line will be vastly improved from last year, and the entire defense will benefit.
Melton, a fourth-round pick in 2009, is still relatively early in his career as a defensive lineman. He played running back during his first two years at the University of Texas and spent his rookie season on injured reserve. He was drafted as a defensive end and this is his first season working exclusively at three-technique (or under tackle), which is the position Tommie Harris used to play.
With DE Julius Peppers bringing pressure off the edge last season and drawing double-teams, the other Bears defensive linemen frequently were facing one-on-one matchups against blockers. Melton and DE Israel Idonije were really the only linemen that took advantage of those situations on a somewhat regular basis.
If Melton, who added substantial muscle in the offseason without sacrificing much in the way of burst or speed, makes the most of his increased playing time and consistently wins battles inside, he and Peppers (two sacks vs. Atlanta) are going to spend a lot of time in the opposition's backfield.
Former Bear Olin Kreutz, the Saints' starting center, will have a say in trying to keep that from happening when the Bears visit the Superdome in Week Two.