The Bears will head to Detroit this weekend with a new starter in the middle of the defense, a 6-foot-2, 296-pound tackle who has been going by the nickname "Big Nasty" recently.
That's not the handle Nate Collins would have chosen for himself, mind you. But it stuck. So what's he supposed to do?
"Actually," Collins said, "I don't know if I particularly like that. But when you say you don't like something, that tends to make guys say it more."
The Bears defense certainly will need Collins to be nasty going forward. Composed and aware too.
Three days after a season-ending knee injury removed Pro Bowl tackle Henry Melton from the defensive front, Collins became the center of attention after practice Wednesday.
The fourth-year defensive tackle suddenly is under a magnifying glass and preparing to make his first NFL start against a prolific Lions offense.
But Collins also understands a heavy dose of discipline must overpower his urge to make an immediate impact. As defensive coordinator Mel Tucker often proclaims, "The star of this defense is the defense."
"Everybody's going to have opportunities to make plays," Collins said. "And when plays come your way, you've got to make them. I feel like that's what I've been doing."
It won't be easy to replace Melton, an agile and disruptive playmaker. Even Lions coach Jim Schwartz openly acknowledged the headaches that existed in game-planning against the Bears with Melton flourishing inside. Above all else, Schwartz said, Melton proved an ideal fit within the defensive structure and was a complement to the Bears' ends.
"He was hard to get out of the play," Schwartz said. "Some guys you can block out and they're not a factor on certain plays. Some guys are good against the run but not so good against the pass, or vice versa. He was around on every single play."
That's what the Bears will miss without Melton the rest of the season. The activity. The production. The double teams he attracted.
But Collins understands it would be counterproductive to try to become a Melton clone. And that's part of what Melton shared after learning that the ACL in his left knee was torn.
"Me and Henry are really tight," Collins said. "And he told me, 'Look, you know this is something that happens to guys. And you just have to be ready and take advantage of it.'"
Tucker has been familiar with Collins since the tackle's rookie year in 2010 when both were in Jacksonville. What the coordinator sensed then was that Collins had an abundance of energy and an understanding of leverage.
Collins' growth has continued into his fourth season, and through three games, he has been consistently active. He has accumulated seven tackles and he forced Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to fumble in Week 2.
Collins and Stephen Paea remain interchangeable inside. Corey Wooton, a starting defensive end, also may slide inside to tackle on occasion in the base defense. And Zach Minter, an undrafted rookie, will in all likelihood be active and part of the rotation for the first time Sunday.
"They act as one; they really do," coach Marc Trestman said. "So No. 1, you've got to have the right fits in the run game. You've got to make sure you're aware of what your assignments are on twists and the different kinds of coordinated rushes that we have. That's critically important. And Nate's done that."
Collins knows the demands while also understanding his new label as a starter shouldn't change his approach.
"Having the opportunity to play on the defense and actually be in the rotation, that's the opportunity," Collins said. "I've been on the field and it's really no different for me (now)."
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