As we continue with the unlikeliest (sneaky) most important Bears for the 2018 season, we move on to defensive ends Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris (RRH for short). If you missed number 3 on center Cody Whitehair, you can find that here.
To piggy-back off of the previous article in this series, it all starts in the trenches. It’s no different on the defensive side of the ball. The Bears defense has 2 established pieces in their 3-man front already: Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman. Hicks is an all-pro caliber player and Goldman certainly has pro-bowl potential. With the departure of Fox-favorite Mitch Unrein, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will be tasked with finding his replacement.
There really aren’t many true position battles on the defensive side of the ball for the 2018 season, but this might just be the most evenly matched and intriguing. In one corner, we have a former 3rd-round pick from a big-time college program, the University of Florida. In the other corner stands a massive human being. The undrafted free agent out of tiny University of Texas-El Paso stands at a cloud-scraping 6-foot-7!
On the surface it would appear to be a one-sided affair. To this point, most fans have viewed Bullard as somewhat of a disappointment. If you look at his 2017 tape however, you might be surprised with how well he actually played. Bullard was supposed to be a 1-gapping penetrator—in the mold of a Henry Melton type—but that ability has only reared its head on occasion. Instead we have seen a Bullard that has become more stout in the interior of the defense, something that it didn’t appear he would be able to do at this level.
Given Bears fans penchant for rooting for the underdog, my own personal poll has RRH well ahead of Bullard in the voting. After playing 4-3 defensive end in college, it looked like RRH would transition to an outside linebacker role with the Bears. After a “redshirt” rookie season, he came back to camp weighing a whopping 30 lbs. more than the previous season, and without sacrificing the athleticism that made him so intriguing when he signed.
In a perfect world, both of these players would play so well that they force Fangio to re-work his defensive line rotation. But the real world rarely works out that way. After watching more of these 2 specifically on tape, I think we are going to see them rotated based on situations. To this point, Bullard has been much better against the run and RRH has been the better pass rusher. I would expect to see Bullard in the base defense while RRH comes in on nickel downs.
Either way, I have a feeling that we finally see these 2 players live up to the expectations that coaches and fans have placed on them over the past 2 seasons. While they will likely never breakout like Hicks did when he joined the Bears, they can certainly combine to be a similar type of player. If you haven’t had the chance to watch the tape last year, I urge you to do so, you might just be surprised.
If Fangio can put Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris in the right position to succeed, this defense will be better than people think.