LAKE FOREST – On the Bears’ first play last week against the Minnesota Vikings, Henry Melton exploded out of his three-point stance and aimed for the quarterback.
Vikings center John Sullivan tried to stand in the way. His mistake.
Melton relied on a swim move, angling his body and raising his right arm over Sullivan’s helmet in the motion of a freestyle swimmer. As Melton’s arm splashed down behind Sullivan, he shoved the lineman in the back while pushing himself toward the quarterback.
A moment later, Melton had sacked quarterback Christian Ponder for a 9-yard loss.
“It just happened,” Melton said this week at Halas Hall. “It’s really all about instincts. I don’t even know what move I do until I see it the next day on film. It’s just all about seeing the guy and getting past him.”
It’s a strategy that could send Melton to his first Pro Bowl in a couple of months.
Few interior defensive linemen across the NFL have harassed quarterbacks as effectively as Melton has this season. The fourth-year veteran from Texas has six sacks in 11 games, which is tied for the Bears’ team lead with Julius Peppers and ranks second among defensive tackles behind Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals.
For most defensive tackles, six sacks in a full season would mark a career highlight. But Melton will not be satisfied with his individual performance until he reaches double-digit sacks, which is a goal that he set before the start of the season.
That means Melton needs four sacks in the Bears’ final five games.
“It’s not a long shot,” said Melton, who notched seven sacks in 2011. “We’ve still got a lot of games left. It’s still achievable.”
As Melton looks toward the future, he is guided by lessons from the past.
Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli spent eight seasons as the position coach for Warren Sapp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sapp registered 74 sacks and 14 forced fumbles in that eight-year span, which included seven Pro Bowl selections.
Melton doesn’t need to ask questions to learn about Sapp. He just needs to listen.
“[Coach Marinelli] tells me about him,” Melton said with a smile. “I don’t really have to ask him many questions.
“He sees a lot of traits that I have that he had. I’m just trying to get on that level.”
To reach that level, Melton will have to dominate for a decade on the defensive line. But at 26 years old, his potential is obvious to Marinelli.
That’s why Marinelli spends time teaching Melton about the former greats.
“It’s what it takes to play the position, in terms of the movement,” Marinelli said. “You try to get guys that have that same type of movement – you know, John Randle and those guys – that Henry does. He’s got that movement.
“You’re trying to give him a visual picture of exactly what that position demands.”
Melton appreciates the images.
“I study their tape,” Melton said. “Those guys are amazing at making plays at the position. They’re Hall of Famers, of course. I’m still kind of gradually working my way to that.”
Bears bits: Running back Matt Forte, cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs were among six Bears players listed as probable for Sunday’s game against Seattle. … Receiver Devin Hester (concussion) and guard Chris Spencer (knee) were ruled out for Sunday’s game, while receiver Alshon Jeffery (knee) was listed as doubtful to play.