Bears Position Preview: Defensive Line

Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman lead one of the NFL's best defensive lines.

Chris Emma
July 18, 2019 - 2:11 pm
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Leading up to the start of Bears training camp in late July, we're running a series of positional outlooks. This is the fifth installment. You can read all of them here.

(670 The Score) The dominance displayed by the Bears defense last season started up front.

The likes of Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman enjoyed terrific years for the NFL's top-ranked scoring defense. Meanwhile, the Bears saw players like Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris establish themselves in key roles.

Entering the 2019 season, the Bears defensive line can hope for more of what it showed a year ago.

D-linemen

Akiem Hicks, 29

The 2019 campaign saw Hicks prove himself as one of the game's premier defensive linemen, and he earned his way to the Pro Bowl. He has played all 48 regular-season games since signing with the Bears in 2016 and has 23 sacks in those three years.

Eddie Goldman, 25

Hicks has often made the case for Goldman being deserving of the Pro Bowl too. Goldman play all 16 games last season for the first time in his career. The Bears' primary defense included Goldman and Hicks as the lone two defensive linemen.

Roy Robertson-Harris, 25

Once an undrafted free-agent linebacker, Robertson-Harris emerged as the Bears' third defensive lineman in 2018. A 6-foot-7, 294-pound pass rusher, he seems to have the arrow pointing up.

Bilal Nichols, 22

A fifth-round pick of the Bears in 2018, Nichols had a strong rookie season, which included three sacks over 14 games. The Delaware product seemed to get better during the course of the season.

Jonathan Bullard, 25

There are few returning players in jeopardy of not making the Bears' 53-man roster, but Bullard heads into training camp on the bubble. The rise of Robertson-Harris and Nichols led to a reduced role in the rotation. He didn't record a sack in 16 games.

Depth: Daryle Banfield, 21; Jalen Dalton, 21; Jonathan Harris, 22; Abdullah Anderson, 23; Nick Williams, 29

Position coach: Jay Rodgers

Amid the great turnover on the defensive coaching staff, Rodgers is returning for his fifth season with the Bears. He was recognized as  Defensive Line Coach of the Year at the 2019 NFL Combine.

How they got here

The Bears put together one of the league's best defensive lines through signings, the draft and development. It all led to a breakthrough season for that position group and the defense as a whole in 2019.

That success started with Hicks, who arrived to the Bears on a two-year, $10-million deal and ultimately fulfilled the potential that general manager Ryan Pace first saw when they were in New Orleans together. Hicks is now entering his fourth season with the Bears having earned the Pro Bowl honors last season.

Under former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the Bears primarily ran a nickel defense with Hicks and Goldman paired up front. A second-round pick in 2015, Goldman also landed a long-term contract last year and is under contract with the team through the 2022 season.

Pace's search for depth on the defensive line proved successful with the growth of Robertson-Harris and promise of Nichols, whose versatility proved to be an asset for the Bears. 

It all spells uncertainty for Bullard, a third-round pick in 2016.

Key storyline: Next man up?

It remains to be seen what kind of differences the Bears will have at defensive coordinator, where Chuck Pagano has taken over after Fangio's departure.

Perhaps Pagano will find a greater comfort working a three-man front, but his personnel on the defensive line could dictate that. It depends on what Nichols, Robertson-Harris or Bullard can show.

Both Nichols and Robertson-Harris have been pleasant surprises, while Bullard has left more to be desired. But a new season brings a fresh start and more for these players to prove alongside mainstays in Hicks and Goldman.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.