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Henry Melton lost for season with torn left ACL

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Updated: October 25, 2013 6:23AM

It didn’t take long for disappointment to turn into determination for Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton. And it a meant a declaration was needed.

“I WILL be ready next season,” Melton tweeted Monday. “But in the meantime I will grind harder than ever before and cheer on my Bears to the ship.”

Melton tore the ACL in his left knee in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ 40-23 victory against the Steelers on a freakish play, where his knee buckled on a rush. He’s out for the year and will face a long rehabilitation after surgery. Melton’s agent said his recovery should extend until May or June, but that he should be ready for training camp.

“We lost a very good player,” Trestman said. “Unfortunately, it’s a next-man-up situation where the next guy has got to come up and be ready to play and help our football team.”

Melton admittedly wasn’t playing at the level he wanted after suffering a concussion in the preseason. But the Bears won’t be able to replace him. He’s a Pro Bowler for a reason and the Bears must find ways to succeed without him.

The plan minus Melton could involve more blitzing linebackers, using defensive ends Julius Peppers or Corey Wootton more at tackle or moving Stephen Paea from nose to the three-technique. Or it could be all of the above.

“He’s a guy who adds a lot to your locker room in terms of personality,” Trestman said. “He’s a very good player and a guy who has continued to get better coming off his concussion in training camp.”

Depth in the trenches and a pass rush from the front four were concerns even before Melton was injured, so the Bears will likely look at free agents to bolster their front. Defensive tackles Matt Toeaina and Amobi Okoye are two former Bears who are available. Trestman also said they’ll look at their practice squad, where Aston Whiteside is the only defensive lineman. Trestman said decisions will be made within 48 hours.

More will be expected from Paea, whom Trestman called “as productive as any defensive lineman that we’ve had for the first three games,” and No. 3 defensive tackle Nate Collins, who has played like a starter.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence in Nate,” Trestman said.

Undrafted rookie defensive tackle Zach Minter also figures to get a chance. He was inactive for the first three weeks, but the Bears remain high on him and continue to see potential.

“We like Zach and his effort and how he’s continually progressing,” Trestman said.

This was a big season for Melton. He was playing under an $8.45 million franchise tag after a long-term deal couldn’t be reached mainly because of the amount of players they have on expiring deals. But at 26, Melton always remained in the long-term plans.

Trestman was with Melton and his mother Monday in the training room. Melton underwent an MRI in the morning. He described Melton as “terribly disappointed.” Melton said before the Steelers game that he was feeling more like himself. He had two tackles and a fumble recovery.

Melton won’t be healthy until after free agency begins, potentially putting him in a tough situation.

Melton’s teammates have faith that he’ll return.

“Henry will be all right,” said receiver Earl Bennett, whose locker is next to Melton’s at Halas Hall. “He’s a great player. We’re going to miss him the rest of the season, but I just wish him the best, just rehab as hard as he can and get ready for next season.”


Twitter: @adamjahns

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