Lovie Smith almost never calls out a player. That’s a big reason his players love him. He always has their back.
So, when the Bears coach called out starting defensive tackle Henry Melton in advance of Monday night’s game in Philadelphia, everybody sort of stopped. What the . . .
I mean, it was so out of character for Smith that you wondered if this was Melton’s last call.
If nothing else, the first thing that Smith’s public pronouncement did was confirm that Melton indeed was still a Bear.
Second, it also sounded like a demand for help from Smith’s dwindling choices of undertackles. Stephen Paea made a couple plays last month and has been AWOL, or blocked easily, ever since.
Third, Smith apparently found a player who could absorb the public criticism and respond the right way. For the wrong way, see Chris Harris’ tweeting that he’s all for accountability as long as EVERYONE is accountable. Smith punished Harris by allowing him to go to a team with one of the best records in the conference. That’ll show ‘em.
But anyway, back to Melton. Of all the reasons for Smith’s public demand that Melton play better, the most obvious is that Smith needs Melton to play better.
The Bears defense is tied for fifth-worst with just 15 sacks. They’re a game behind everybody, but still, they aren’t getting there like they should. The Eagles offense is tied for fifth-best in allowing just 13 sacks.
But calling out the defensive tackle the week the Bears face the best rushing team in the league and the most athletic quarterback is perhaps also motivated by the right spot against the right kind of opponents.
Melton will line up somewhere in and around rookie center Jason Kelce and rookie right guard Danny Watkins. No matter how good they might look for a while, rookies still make rookie mistakes. They can be exposed. They can be beaten. Melton, remember, had a career against Atlanta in the opener when facing similarly inexperienced and questionable linemen, racking up a couple sacks and applying serious pressure straight up the middle and straight at Matt Ryan.
Sure, Vick is a freak running around back there, not the statue Ryan is, but this is a matchup Melton has to win and can win. That seems to be a big part of the way Smith played it last week.
One more thing: There are times when a coach calls out a player at the opposite end of the real problem or the bigger worry. Like this:
Pressure from the most important position in Smith’s defense minimizes the gaping wounds that are safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte. If Vick has time to let the likes of Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson put moves on the Bears kids, then forget it.
The Cover-2 takes on new meaning Monday night. Melton and the entire defensive line have to cover for the two inexperienced safeties.