Unlike their offense, the Chicago Bears will be returning most of their defensive starters from the 2017 season. A few additions were made - most notably first-round pick Roquan Smith - but the core from last year’s roster was able to stay in tact.
Although the starting lineup will remain similar, there are a handful of intriguing new players coming off of the bench who could be fighting with free agent signings and returning veterans for playing time. As a follow-up to Thursday’s article, let's take a look at one Bears player at each defensive position who could end up climbing the depth chart by the time the regular season rolls around.
Instead of Jonathan Bullard: Roy Robertson-Harris
Arguably the only true starting battle on the roster, the defensive end spot is currently up for grabs. Akiem Hicks has one of the spots locked in, but Jonathan Bullard or Roy Robertson-Harris will have to fight it out to secure a starting role.
Bullard, a 2016 third-round pick, currently holds the starting spot by a narrow margin, but the Bears may actually be better off starting Robertson-Harris, who flashed potential in limited playing time last season. Both hold up a valid argument to be added to the starting lineup, but Robertson-Harris has the physical tools of an NFL starter.
Reasons to love Robertson-Harris: Robertson-Harris has an intimidating blend of size and speed that a lot of 3-4 defensive ends wish that they could have. The six-foot-seven, 294-pound UTEP alumnus played edge rusher in college and ran a 4.84 40-yard dash at his Pro Day in 2016, and hasn’t seemed to have lost much of that explosiveness since transitioning into an interior defensive lineman.
Instead of Aaron Lynch: Kylie Fitts
Here’s something you probably haven’t heard at all this offseason: the Bears are thin at the outside linebacker position.
In an offseason full of impressive moves and noteworthy shakeups, Chicago’s group of edge rushers was barely improved, if at all. At the end of the day, though, they’re going to have to make due with what they have, so they might as well give more playing time to players with upside.
Aaron Lynch was signed in hopes that he could replicate his 2015 form, but that seems highly unlikely after two straight seasons that were plagued with injury and less-than-stellar performances. The Bears would be better off giving more playing time to Fitts, who himself has had injury issues over the past two years, but has more potential to tap into than Lynch.
Reasons to love Fitts: Fitts is a well-rounded edge prospect who offers a bit of everything. He’s a solid athlete with good first-step acceleration who can also shed blocks well on a consistent basis. He isn’t perfect, but he has the talent to be a long-term rotational edge rusher for the Bears.
A position without any change! Gee willikers.
The Bears’ organization at the linebacker position couldn’t be made better with the players they have on their roster. Danny Trevathan and, eventually, Roquan Smith make up a formidable starting duo on paper, with Nick Kwiatkoski as the primary backup. The likes of Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Jonathan Anderson and John Timu are all aptly placed, as well.
Instead of Marcus Cooper: Kevin Toliver
Chicago seems to be relatively set for the most part at cornerback, with Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara secured as the starting outside corners and Bryce Callahan in the nickel. Players like Cre’Von LeBlanc and Sherrick McManis figure to be safe bets to make the 53-man roster, as well. Marcus Cooper can also be placed in that category, but he might be better off taking a back seat on the depth chart.
Kevin Toliver, an undrafted free agent out of LSU, has been one of the most impressive rookies in training camp thus far, and he has a higher ceiling than most undrafted free agents. If he ends up making the team, then he could be a very good insurance option for one of the two outside starters.
Reasons to like Toliver: Two words: physical tools. At six-foot-two and 192 pounds, Toliver has impressive length for a defensive back. He’s physical in man coverage, is a solid athlete and provides some value as a tackler.
Jacob Infante is a Chicago Bears writer at SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron. He is also an NFL Draft writer at USA Today SMG’s Draft Wire. He can be reached through Twitter @jacobinfante24 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.