The Bears won't try to replace injured Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton with just one man.
Backup Nate Collins, who has been taking significant reps with the first team since training camp and throughout the preseason, is expected to do most of the heavy lifting.
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But defensive end Corey Wootton has been working inside this week and could get some snaps there Sunday at Detroit. The Bears have occasionally used a three-DE alignment in nickel situations, with Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin playing in the same front as Wootton.
"I've been preparing for that most of the off-season and training camp, just in case," said the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Wootton. "I've been rushing some inside. Now I might get some in base (defense) in case we need it."
For depth, undrafted rookie tackle Zach Minter could be active Sunday for the first time this season.
But the 6-foot-2, 296-pound Collins is the key. His playing time has increased each week, from 21 snaps in the opener to 27 in Week 2 and 41 against the Steelers.
The four-year veteran from Virginia has never started an NFL game, but he received some input from Melton, who is out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
"Me and Henry are really tight," Collins said. "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.'"
Collins will mostly be working in tandem with nose tackle Stephen Paea and in concert with the defensive ends.
"They act as one," coach Marc Trestman said. "So, No. 1 is 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 (stunts) and different kinds of coordinated rushes that we have. That's critically important.
"Nate's done that. He's been in there since the OTAs. He's familiar with what we're trying to accomplish, and he's an active player. He's got a high motor, he moves around well, and we expect he'll do well."
Other than possibly being introduced with the starters, Collins says very little will change for him at Detroit's Ford Field.
"It's just next-man-up mentality," he said. "I'm just going to be out there when the game starts. I just have to read my keys and continue to help this team win, stay in my gap and do what I do every week -- just go out there and play hard, run to the ball and be physical."
Collins said it isn't about him or any individual but of being part of a group where everyone takes care of his own assignment.
"Coach (defensive coordinator Mel Tucker) says it every day: 'The star of the defense is the defense,'" Collins said. "As long as guys stay in their gap, everyone's going to have the opportunity to make plays, and when plays come your way you just have to make them. I feel like that's what I've been doing."
Collins played in nine games with the Bears last season and had 13 tackles. Originally an undrafted free agent of the New York Giants, he was signed late in 2010 by the Jaguars. From then through the 2011 season, he was a pet project of Tucker's when he was Jacksonville's defensive coordinator.
"He's a high-effort guy, a high-energy guy," Tucker said. "Stout. He's got a relentless mentality, has a good pad level. He's got a chip on his shoulder. I really like him."
Collins says he's benefited from Tucker's tutelage.
"He's always been on me since I've been in Jacksonville," Collins said. "As soon as I got there he told me he liked the way I always hustle and I'm always trying hard, and (he said) that's half the battle.
"He used to always put in my head that, if you can rush the passer, you can always find a job in the league."
Now it's time for Collins to demonstrate what he has learned, and Tucker has confidence in him.
"He's come a long way," the defensive coordinator said. "He's very dedicated. Football is very important to him. His teammates are very important to him.
"He works hard each and every day to get better, and he has improved."
Now Collins will have even more of an opportunity to prove it.
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