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Chicago Bears 2020 Position Battles: Who will step up on the defensive line?

We move over to the defensive side of the ball in our 11-part roster battles series.

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Rob Leiter/Getty Images

He may be “just” a nose tackle, but Eddie Goldman is one of the better ones in the NFL and don’t forget that he’s versatile enough to line up in other places along the Chicago Bears’ defensive line. Goldman played 44% of the snaps on defense a year ago in the 15 games he appeared in, and they’ll make up those snaps with a collection of players.

Him opting out of the 2020 season will force defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to adjust what he does in his base defense, but since that’s only about 30% of the time these days I think the Bears will be able to scheme around his loss.

Roster Locks

Now that John Jenkins is the only true nose tackle on the roster he’s a lock. He was probably going to be a lock either way, but now he’s in line to start for the Bears when they trot of their 30 base front. He’s probably not going to play as much as Goldman, but the 6’3”, 327 pounder will be a big part of the run defense.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Akiem Hicks get the occasional rep on the nose this year. We’ve seen the Bears put him anywhere along the front seven — including in a 2-point stance — and he’s a players offense’s are always wary of when he’s on the field.

The Bears need third year pro Bilal Nichols to step up this year and show more of a pass rush. He had a promising rookie season, but a broken hand stunted his development a year ago and he went from three sacks to none.

“Bilal is working extremely hard,” d-line coach Jay Rodgers said via the team’s website. “I think some of the production he had as a rookie was very good. And some of the things he did in his second year were better, and then some things he can be better at.”

His hand is completely healed and he’s put in the work this offseason to ready himself for a breakout 2020.

“I have a lot of confidence in Bilal because he has a sparkle in his eye,’ Rodgers continued. “He wants to be great, and he has lofty goals for himself. I’m looking forward to seeing what he looks like when he comes back into training camp and gets going.”

Roy Robertson-Harris is looking to build off a 2019 season that saw him make the first 7 starts of his career and play in a career high 51% of the defense’s snaps. He’s entering his contract year and if he can put it all together he should pick up a nice payday.

The last two seasons the Bears have opened the year with six defensive linemen, and if they do that again these next two guys have the inside track.

A good bet to make it

I’ve always liked how Abdullah Anderson has played the last two preseasons, and last year he finally got a chance on the 53-man roster. It wasn’t much — he only appeared in 6 games — but I think he sticks around because he can back up the nose.

Brent Urban provided a decent veteran presence in the 9 games he appeared in a year ago, and the 29-year old has too much experience to be beat out by a rookie this year.

On the bubble

The last two defensive linemen on the roster are undrafted free agents Lee Autry from Mississippi State and Trevon McSwain from Duke. I would expect the Bears to keep at least one of these guys on the practice squad.