Chicago Bears defensive tackle Zach Minter feasted on Division II competition in college. In 40 starts for Montana State, he racked up 188 tackles, 31.5 for a loss, 17.5 sacks, three interceptions, 12 pass breakups, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. As a senior, Minter earned First-Team All-Big Sky honors.
Yet when draft day came, Minter was passed over, due mainly to the level of competition he faced in college. Once in Bears camp though, he showed the same power and quickness he did at Montana State, which eventually earned him a roster spot.
Minter has been inactive through the first three weeks of this season but the torn ACL Henry Melton suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers has bumped Minter up the depth chart. As such, he'll see his first NFL action this weekend against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
Minter spoke with Bear Report this week about his journey to the NFL and what he's anticipating playing in his first professional football game this Sunday.
"It was very upsetting to see Henry Melton go down. He's such a great player, such a hard worker. It's really too bad that it happened to him like that. I wish him all the best and hope to see him back here at Halas Hall in the very near future."
How much playing time do you think Melton's injury will offer you?
"I don't even want to think that way, about getting an opportunity because of somebody else's misfortune. My answer would be that I'm happy to fill any role that the coaches ask of me. I'll continue to work hard and progress as quickly as possible. I know they will tell me when they think I am ready."
What was your first road trip like last week in Pittsburgh?
"What a great time that was. I've always loved road trips. It's definitely exciting to be traveling with your team to an unfamiliar stadium. When you come out with the win, it makes the entire experience that much sweeter.
"The only downside to last weekend was the fact that we didn't get on our flight home until around midnight. I got home at around four in the morning, then it was hard to unwind and get to sleep. I was completely exhausted when I woke up later that day. Luckily the coaches gave us time off until Wednesday to rest and recover.
"The noise level in Pittsburgh was slightly less than I'd expected it to be. Any time the Bears defense made a good play, the stadium would get real quiet. That made it a lot easier for our guys to get their jobs done.
"When we practice during a week leading up to what we think will be a game in a loud stadium, we use techniques to help us compensate for any distraction. We were indoors most of last week during practice and we used the noise machines to simulate a crowd. It's surprising how effective that can be. Once you learn to concentrate through that manufactured noise, the real crowd noise isn't distracting.
"It was an interesting game and definitely a team effort. I think the balance out there was extremely important with our offense, our defense, and our special teams all working together towards a common goal. It was particularly exciting for me to see the work of our defense. I learned a lot just watching that.
"We saw generally what we expected to see from the Steelers. They are a strong team with a tough record this far in the season. We knew that they would come out there ready to win. It was back and forth there for a while, then things got under control. There's no better feeling than being in an opponent's stadium, watching the clock tick down, and your team has the lead.
"I let myself relive a victory in my mind for a day or two after it happens. I know the conventional wisdom is that you give yourself no more than 24 hours to enjoy it, then go back to work. Maybe it's a rookie thing but I can't cut the enjoyment off quite that fast. For me, watching the Bears win builds my own personal confidence. Being part of this organization and having things go well for the team is important to me.
"This coming week we will be on the road again. I don't find that tiring or disruptive at all. I traveled for a lot of college games. I've always seen away games as more of an adventure than a burden. This time the other stadium is pretty close and there isn't a significant time change. It's an indoor game and again we are expecting a lot of noise from the Detroit fans.
"The Lions a strong team with something to prove. They have a good quarterback and some top receivers. That's the kind of situation that can get dangerous. We've been watching film and implementing a game plan this week. It's amazing to me as a rookie how complex that process can be."
How can you contribute on Sunday?
"I have no idea what my role will be this weekend. I've been working hard and I hope I've been showing the coaches the progress they expect to see. If my job in Detroit is to stand on the sidelines and observe, I'm fine with that. But if I get the chance to get out there and play, it will be a great experience. Either way, it's all good. Whatever my eventual role, I plan to be improving every day."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.