Melton among 5 Bears earning Pro Bowl honors

Henry Melton said last week he was as good as any 4-3 defensive tackle in the NFL than himself last week and now he’s been recognized as one of the best.

Melton was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time, one of five Chicago Bears to be named to the NFC’s team Wednesday. Cornerback Tim Jennings, who leads the league with eight interceptions, also was a first-time honoree, joining fellow cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive end Julius Peppers and wide receiver Brandon Marshall as all-star selections.

Weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs, the team leader with 118 tackles, was not selected after being named to seven consecutive Pro Bowls. Briggs could be added later as an alternate.

Melton, who has not played in the last two games because of a clavicle injury, has six sacks and has improved greatly as a two-way player against the run this season. The Pro Bowl bid can only help him in his drive for a new contract as he will be a free agent after the season.

“It’s an amazing feeling. It’s been a long journey from playing running back and defensive end and now being a Pro Bowl defensive tackle,” Melton said. “It’s an amazing feeling. There are a lot of people who had a hand in helping me, and I just appreciate it.”

Melton was a fourth-round pick in 2009, and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli quickly got the idea to move him from end to tackle. He started to take off last season, giving the Bears a pass-rushing presence on the inside that had been missing.

“He’s a great guy, a great coach,” Melton said. “We spend a lot of hours together working, working extremely hard trying to mold me into a better man and definitely a better football player. I’ve got a lot of love for him and hopefully we can keep it going.

“I just wanted to help the defense any way I could, and when he said I had the stuff that he looks for in a premier defensive tackle, I listened to him and just got to work. If he said that he saw me as an elite defensive tackle, he’s seen everybody -- (Warren) Sapp and a lot of guys that had come before me, and for him to say that I believed in what he was saying.”

When Melton got the news, he turned to Peppers, who was selected to his eighth Pro Bowl, and said, “We’re going to be roommates?”

Not exactly. But they can have fun in Hawaii during the week of the game -- one Jennings made clear he will be playing in.

“That's the most exciting thing really, playing really,” Jennings said. “Getting voted in and I'm actually going to play. They're not going to vote you in and you're not going to play. That's not the way it's going to work. Just being over there with all the guys, all the future Hall of Famers, just taking that in. I'm going to live for the moment and just kind of soak it all in right now. But I'm excited to just see what it's really about.”

Jennings, who was benched in Week 16 last season, re-signed with the Bears during free agency on a two-year deal. He started making plays and wound up leading all cornerbacks in the NFL in fan voting. At 5-8, he hopes he serves as an inspiration for undersized kids playing sports.

“Hopefully a lot of kids that's in my situation, that's gone through my situation, can take it all in and understand that it doesn't matter what people may think about you or you think you're not good enough,” Jennings said. “If you really want it and you enjoy doing it just kind of go out there and have fun and just try to be the best that you can be and everything can take care of itself.

“I think I've been doubted a lot. To put me where I am today, I took it all in stride. I enjoyed playing sports and I enjoyed playing football and I got a whole bunch of opportunities and blessings from God. And I just wanted to make the best of it and kind of just enjoy it and make the best of it while I still can because I know it's not going to last forever. So I just want to enjoy it while I can and make the best of every opportunity I get.”

Peppers had three sacks in Sunday’s victory at Arizona to give him 11 ½ for the season. He’s the first player opposing offenses prepare for and based on how the defense has played, even in the recent struggles for the team, it’s not a surprise he was selected. Tillman gets his second consecutive Pro Bowl selection. He had 10 forced fumbles, tying him for the most in a single season since 1991. He scored his third touchdown of the season in the victory over the Cardinals with an interception.

Marshall trails only the Lions’ Calvin Johnson in receiving yards with 1,466. He also is second with 113 receptions, both numbers Bears’ single-season records. Marshall, who was the MVP of the Pro Bowl last year playing for the Miami Dolphins, also had 11 touchdown receptions.

Twitter @BradBiggs

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