Sky's The Limit For Henry Melton.............
Tommie Harris: 'Sky's the limit for Henry Melton'
Ex-teammate Harris, Bears coaching staff high on defensive tackle
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A text message popped up on Henry Melton's cell phone even before he could wish Tommie Harris good luck.
- By Vaughn McClure, Chicago Tribune reporter 6:47 p.m. CDT, August 3, 2011
It was just two days after the Bears released the three-time Pro Bowler Harris in February. Melton figured he'd give his ex-teammate a few days to digest the bad news. Instead, Harris reached out to Melton and offered words of encouragement.
"He sent me a text that read, 'The ball's in your court now. You just have to go get it.' I appreciated that," Melton said. "I look up to him. He's one of the most positive people you could ever meet. And long before he was released, he told me I was the future of the team."
The future is now.
When asked this offseason about Melton, coach Lovie Smith boldly responded, "He's going to be great." Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli gushed just as much over the third-year defensive tackle who has yet to start an NFL game.
"He's going to be a good one," Marinelli said. "Quietly, he did a great job for us last year. He's got great, great speed, athleticism. He's a tough kid. And he played close to 500 snaps last year. Now, he's got to go out and do it in camp."
Melton played in all 16 games last season and tied for second on the team with nine quarterback pressures. He also recorded 21/2 sacks as an inside rusher in the nickel defense.
Obviously, Melton showed enough to warrant high praise from his coaches. Now, he'll have to live up to those lofty expectations as potentially Harris' replacement.
"Do I feel pressure? A little bit," he said. "But I like pressure. I like that my coaches believe in me and trust me. I mean, I've always had upside, always have been really athletic and have played and worked hard."
He might have to work a little harder now.
Melton won't be handed the starting job after the Bears signed Amobi Okoye, a former first-round pick of the Texans. Melton has been with the first-team defense through the first five practices, but Okoye will suit up for the first time Thursday night.
Not to mention the Bears also have Matt Toeaina and rookie Stephen Paea in the defensive tackle mix along with starting nose tackle Anthony Adams.
"It doesn't bother me," Melton said of Okoye's arrival. "That's what this game is about; bringing in the best guys to bolster the defensive line. Competition is great."
Although the lockout kept Melton from establishing himself as the unquestioned starter, he used his offseason wisely. He bulked up to 295 pounds after ending last season at 275. He came to the Bears as a 255-pound rookie defensive end and former college running back.
Melton spent the offseason working out with his uncle, former Bronco and Super Bowl champ Ray Crockett. Melton went through combine-like workouts outside his old middle school in Texas.
"All we needed was a ladder, some tennis balls and a timer," Melton said. "My uncle is old-school."
Melton tracked his performance from March until he gained the 20 pounds in June and noticed no drop-off in speed or quickness. He hopes that translates into a highly productive 2011 season, and he has already targeted double-digit sacks.
One former Bear certainly believes he can achieve that goal.
"Henry Melton is one of the most explosive guys I've ever seen," said Harris, now with the Colts. "When you look at John Randle, they have similarities. To have ability to be so fast and so quick as a defensive lineman, the sky's the limit for Henry Melton."
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