Bears Offseason Outlook: Defensive Line

The Bears defensive line established itself as one of the league's best in 2018.

Chris Emma
February 06, 2019 - 2:23 pm
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Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series of positional breakdowns as the Bears enter the offseason. Click here for all of them as we move along.

(670 The Score) The hopes that general manager Ryan Pace has held for his Bears defensive line came to fruition in 2018, with that group reaching its full potential.

Defensive end Akiem Hicks reached the Pro Bowl, nose tackle Eddie Goldman stayed healthy and lived up to his new contract and emerging young players filled the rotation.

What's next for the Bears defensive line? They hope more of the same.

Who's back: Akiem Hicks, 29; Eddie Goldman, 25; Jonathan Bullard, 25; Bilal Nichols, 22

The Bears' strong core is led by Hicks and Goldman. Hicks is under contract through 2021 and Goldman through 2022. A fifth-round pick last spring, Nichols emerged in his rookie season, starting six games and recording three sacks.

Free agents: Roy Robertson-Harris, 25 (RFA); Nick Williams, 28

The  Bears picked Bullard in the third round of the 2016 draft, but they have received more consistency from Robertson-Harris, an undrafted free agent signed after that draft. Now, the Bears can opt to retain Robertson-Harris as a restricted free agent. Williams was active for just two games in 2018.

2018 review

Pace has been rewarded for his faith in Goldman and Hicks, players whom he identified on the second day of the NFL Draft (Hicks was drafted in the third round by the Saints when Pace was in their front office).

Hicks was second on the Bears with 7.5 sacks in 2018, trailing only star linebacker Khalil Mack. He garnered what many believed what long overdue Pro Bowl recognition and along the way has become a key leader for a Bears defense that ranked first in the league in scoring and takeaways.

Hicks has also has been a strong advocate for Goldman as worthy of a Pro Bowl honor. Goldman posted three sacks while playing a dirty-work role at nose tackle that doesn't receive much glory. Most importantly for Goldman, he stayed healthy in 2018, playing in every game.

The Bears established a second five-technique opposite of Hicks as Robertson-Harris and Nichols emerged. They each finished the season with three sacks. Bullard was shut out in the sack category.

2019 outlook

As with much of their roster, the Bears boast continuity on the defensive line for next season and beyond. This is also the lone defensive position group retaining the same coach, Jay Rodgers, under new coordinator Chuck Pagano.

One question moving forward with Pagano leading the defense is how the Bears will operate their base look. Vic Fangio utilized a 3-4 front in principle but typically used a nickel package, especially against prolific passing attacks.

Pagano has said that he will adjust to what the Bears have defensively, though it remains to be seen whether he will prioritize nickel looks and a two-man defensive line or instead operate more in 3-4 schemes. Either way, the Bears seem to have enough with Hicks, Goldman and a strong rotation with Nichols and Robertson-Harris.

The Bears should be inclined to retain the restricted free agent Robertson-Harris, a converted outside linebacker who has become a capable defensive lineman. Entering a contract season, Bullard has plenty to prove. 

As for the tandem of Hicks and Goldman, the Bears hope for more of the same. 

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