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Henry Melton wants to be ‘the man’ on Bears’ defense

Henry Meltis tackle Redskins running back Evan Royster preseasgame Aug. 18. Last seasMeltwas tied for third among all tackles with

Henry Melton is in on a tackle of Redskins running back Evan Royster in a preseason game Aug. 18. Last season, Melton was tied for third among all tackles with seven sacks. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: September 30, 2012 6:28AM

Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton doesn’t need anyone critiquing him because he is very critical of himself.

“I always grade myself very hard and I want to be consistent, and at times last year I wasn’t,” Melton said. “I’m trying to be more consistent and really be the man for the defense.”

In his first full season as a starter in 2011, Melton finished with seven sacks, tied for third-most among NFL defensive tackles. Two of them came in the opener, and another came two weeks later. He then went five games in a row without a sack before tallying four during a five-week stretch. He went sack-less in the final three games.

Asked if he got tired as the season progressed, Melton said, “Not really. It’s just the season. Mentally and physically, you’re going to get tired. I finished OK but definitely could have been better.”

Melton noted that he split a lot of repetitions with Amobi Okoye, the former first-round pick of the Houston Texans who played last season with the Bears. During the offseason, Okoye signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Of the Bears’ 1,007 defensive plays last season, Melton was on the field for 621 of them, 57.5 percent. Okoye played 593 snaps, 54.9 percent.

“People felt I disappeared sometimes, but I wasn’t playing as many snaps as people thought,” Melton said.

At 295 pounds, Melton certainly isn’t the biggest defensive tackle, and the Bears were mindful of not wearing him out last season. But with Okoye gone, Melton might play more this season.

That’s why he focused on his conditioning this offseason.

“Because I felt I’d have a bigger role this year,” he said.

Melton’s backup is Nate Collins, who will miss the first game because of a suspension.

Melton performed well last season, but he has another great motivator this year: His contract, which will pay him $565,000 this season, is set to expire after the season.

“It’s always out there, and you want to set yourself up and your family,” said Melton, who is single but noted that he wants to help his mother and sister. “You’re always working toward making sure they’re going to be good. But you can’t think about that too much.”

Surely, though, Melton hasn’t missed some of the monstrous deals signed by players at his position, such as the Baltimore Ravens’ Haloti Ngata, who signed a five-year deal worth $61 million.

Melton, 25, doesn’t get too ahead of himself. He started his collegiate career at Texas as a running back, and he was a fourth-round pick of the Bears in 2009.

“Every day is just a blessing, especially where I started,” Melton said. “It’s been a long journey, but I’m still young.”

Heading into the season, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is pleased with Melton.

“He’s made explosive plays for us,” Marinelli said. “But we want to see them again. He’s had a good, solid camp. And I like solid.”

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