The Chicago Bears had one good defensive lineman last year, Akiem Hicks. He played near a Pro Bowl level most of the season (54 tackles, 7 sacks, 11 TFL, 17 QBH, 2 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 BL ), but just missed out on the trip to Orlando for the game. If he has a similar year in 2017, there’s a good chance he makes the cut this time. Another year like 2016 and Hicks will be due a rather large raise as a free agent, so I’m guessing that GM Ryan Pace will try to sign the 27 year old to an extension this season.
Even though Hicks was the only guy that really showed up last year, he’s not the only guy with talent on the team. Some luck in the health department will help the man that lines up beside him.
If Eddie Goldman can stay healthy, he’s a Pro Bowl lock. The big nose tackle has flashed in his two years, but the injuries have got the better of him. Him and Hicks could be quite the tandem in 2017, and both are locks for the 53.
Second year defensive end, Jonathan Bullard, has bulked up to around 300 pounds, and he’s been having a really good camp. When I had Robert Zeglinski on my podcast, he predicted that Bullard would win a starting job, and in the first preseason game, Bullard flashed a bit as well. Last year fans we’re hoping they grabbed the steal of the draft when GM Ryan Pace nabbed Bullard, so maybe we’ll see him tap into some of that potential this year.
Jaye Howard, if healthy, is a lock as well. I have to preface that with the “if healthy,” because hip injuries tend to linger. If by some chance he can’t make it all the way back, or if he suffers a set back, I could see him going to IR or being waived with an injury settlement.
A good bet to make it
It seems every veteran head coach has a few players that are ‘his guys,’ and Mitch Unrein seems like one of those for John Fox. He’s not a bad player, he’s just not necessarily a good player.
On the bubble
The Bears will probably carry six defensive linemen on the 53 man roster, so there will be a battle for the last couple spots.
I thought C.J. Wilson had a nice end to last season plus he was solid on Thursday against the Broncos. He could back up at the nose, but so could free agent John Jenkins. Both veterans are 6’3”, and listed over 320 pounds. Undrafted free agent, Rashaad Coward, at 6’5”, 320 pounds, could also back up Goldman at the nose tackle spot. His length may also allow him to kick out to defensive end, but I think he’s too green to make the roster. He’s a good practice squad candidate.
Kapron Lewis-Moore has always battled some injuries, even going all the way back to Notre Dame. The third year pro is a long shot to stick on the roster.
Which brings us to the ultra athletic Roy Robertson-Harris, who the Bears had at outside linebacker last off season. This year, he bulked up about 25 pounds to transition to the defensive line. He’s athletic enough to slide into the Cornelius Washington role in 2017 for the Bears, but he has to prove it on the field.