As if one ACL tear wasn’t enough, the Chicago Bears have already endured two, both at defensive tackle. Pro Bowler Henry Melton and his backup, Nate Collins, are done for the season, leaving the Bears in a serious bind at the position. On top of that, Stephen Paea is still healing from a turf toe and is questionable for tonight’s contest against the New York Giants.
The injuries have already forced Chicago’s coaching staff to move Corey Wootton inside and could result in journeyman Landon Cohen getting the start this evening. And if Paea can’t go, expect the Bears to give undrafted rookie Zach Minter his first game snaps in the regular season.
It’s been a long wait for Minter, who has been active the past two weeks but hasn’t seen the field. Minter spoke with Bear Report this week about the possibility of playing against the Giants.
“I’m feeling real good,” Minter said. “It’s great to have the opportunity to play. I’m feeling like everything I’ve been working toward all the years that I’ve played football could be about to happen.
“You never want to see any of your teammates go down. You never want injuries to your starters. First Henry, now Nick. It has to be tough on them as they were playing so well when bad things happened. We all are keeping in contact with them and letting them know that we’re thinking about them every day. It will be great when they are able to return to the team. Rehab can be tough but these guys know what is required and they’ll get the job done.
“Things happen in football and you need to expect the unexpected. We have been trained to be ready at all times and to know how to step up if our number is called. It’s what we work on in practice every single day. You are expected to be prepared to play and play well.
“As rookies, I think we all get a little case of nerves when we are about to go on the field. In my experience so far, once the ball is snapped, it’s all about the game. I guess the big plus is that most of the rookies haven’t played that much at this point so our bodies are fresh. Having a short time to prepare for the Thursday game is not a problem physically.
“The loss last weekend was disappointing. We all took that game to heart. You never want to let down your hometown crowd. That was the first game we’d played at Soldier Field in several weeks and I know that fan’s expectations were high for us. We were in it the entire game but unable to close. To say that was discouraging is an understatement. We learned from our mistakes and are moving on from there.
“I was surprised at the tone of the locker room after the game. Guys were so frustrated and angry about the loss, but there was a sense of determination that we wouldn’t let that happen again. I see that extending into practice this week. We have to put the Saints game behind us and focus on the Giants. We know we can get it done if we execute properly. That is what we are concentrating on right now.
“We’ve spent considerable time studying film from the last game and for the upcoming game. Our practices have been walkthroughs to preserve our strength. We're resting when possible and changing our diets for the short term. Most of us have been adding carbs for additional energy.”
Are the lower-energy practices effective enough to prepare you for the game?
“I’d say a definite yes to that. We are working through our schemes and setting up the game plan. Our meetings are very intense and focused. The main goal is to build confidence. The trainers and coaches have a great deal of experience in short-week situations, so we’re all trusting them to have us ready to go tomorrow.”
What have you been working on this week during the walkthroughs to prepare for Thursday’s game?
“Everything. I am refining my technique and working at increasing my reaction time and overall speed. The more I am out there in game-day situations, the easier that learning curve should be. I prepare the same way every week trying to get better and help the defense win whether I think I’ll be playing or not. Whatever they need, I’ll give. Just let me know if you want pressure, penetration, destruction. Tell me and I’m ready.
“The Giants have had a rough season so far. They’ll want this win badly. It’s our job to be sure that doesn’t happen. We’re not where we want to be right now either, so I think the sense of urgency for a win will be equal on both teams. The best way to approach any game is to view it as both teams with a 0-0 record. There is no record so you go on from there and make things positive. We know they’ll give us their best shot. As a defense our job is to get after that football.
“It’s a national game under the lights. That in itself is really exciting. You know that a lot of players as well as your family and friends will be watching. I hope to be able to step in and step up, help get this team and our fans a win.”
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.