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Chicago Bears 2016 Position Battles: Could the defensive line be a strength for this team?

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

If the inside linebacker position is the most improved for the Chicago Bears this offseason, the defensive line may be the 2nd most improved. Last year the Bears allowed 120.9 rushing yards per game (22nd) and they had 35 sacks as a team (also 22nd). The D-Line wasn't solely responsible for the low rankings, but the Bears went out and added two players that will make an immediate impact.

Improving the trenches will help the linebackers, which in turn will help the secondary. You want to build a winning team, starting with the big guys up front is a great way to begin.

Roster Locks

I'm expecting a big year from nose tackle Eddie Goldman. He has the size and strength to do anything the Bears ask him, plus he's quick enough to shoot gaps to disrupt an offense. Free Agent Akiem Hicks has been getting talked up by his teammates all offseason, and at 26 years old, he may be coming into his own. Mitch Unrein's stout play against the run gives him a good chance to start, plus you can't take away his perfect goal line fullback role. Rookie Jonathan Bullard was a terror against the run last year at Florida, but he also had a sold pass rush.

A good bet to make it

The Bears opened with 5 on the d-line last year, so if they do the same this season, that leaves a big battle among the bubble guys. It will all depend what the Bears want from the last guy on the depth chart, a stout 2 gap run defender, a quick one gap penetrator, or a more rounded player that can do a bit of both. Besides the top four I mentioned above, I don't see any other defensive lineman that should breathe easy.

On the bubble

Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton were holdovers that were drafted for the old 4-3 defense. Ego was picked to play the NT spot with Sutton set to play the 3-Tech by then GM Phil Emery. Both flashed solid play last year, but the d-line depth wasn't nearly as good as in 2016.

Cornelius Washington made the final 53 to open the 2015 season, but an injury after just 8 snaps landed him on season ending injured reserve. He has the athletic traits to be a good 5-Tech DE, but he has to stay healthy.

Terry Williams was a fan favorite last offseason, but he didn't make the team, and he only lasted a month on the practice squad before getting released. Some late injuries brought him back to the team in December, but he never got on the field. If he's in shape, he could be a dark-horse to win the back up nose guard job.

Keith Bullard was bouncing around the Houston Texans organization from 2012 to 2014 and his only regular season action came in three games in 2014 where he played a total of 25 snaps. Marquis Jackson's twin signed a gigantic contract with the Jags, but this Jackson is a long shot to make the roster.

What are your thoughts on the defensive line?