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Chicago Bears 2021 Position Battles: Defensive line is beefed up and ready

Here’s our seventh Chicago Bears position breakdown in advance of training camp.

Denver Broncos vs Chicago Bears Set Number: X162888 TK1

The Chicago Bears addressed their defensive line in free agency and the NFL Draft, but their biggest addition from the 2020 season will be in getting a player back that opted out. The returning Eddie Goldman will have a ripple effect along their front seven as it allows the promising Bilal Nichols to get back to his natural position. If this group stays healthy in 2021 they’ll be a strength of the team.

Roster Locks

Goldman coming back to man the middle of the defense is huge, both literally and figuratively. I didn’t realize how much the Bears would miss their big 318(ish) pound nose tackle, but with him out the Bears gave up more rushing yards and a higher yards per rush in 2020 than they did in 2019. That’s not all Goldman, but his ability to anchor, push the pocket, and eat up double teams can’t be calculated in an analytic. The players and coaches all missed him and it’ll be good to get the d-line back to normal.

Nichols (6’3”, 313) is coming off a career year, and he’s heading into his contract season, so I’m expecting big things from the soon to be 25-year old. His athleticism should shine a bit more now that he’s no longer having to line up over the center.

Akiem Hicks (6’4”, 347 pounds) had a nice bounce back 2020 after injuries stole most of 2019 from him. Goldman’s return coupled with the emergence of Nichols should allow the Bears to scale back some of Hicks’ playing time, because at 31-years old the Bears need to be smart with his usage. He’s one of the most dominating defensive linemen in the game today, but the Bears need to keep him fresh for the full 17 game season.

The surprising Mario Edwards (6’3”, 280) had 7 quarterback hits, and a career high 4 sacks and 6 tackles for loss, all while only playing in 24% of their defensive snaps. That production earned him a 3 year, $11,660,391 contract, with $5.5 million guaranteed, so the Bears will expect him to play quite a bit more. He’ll start the season with a 2 game suspension, but once back he should be the first d-lineman off the bench.

Seven year pro Angelo Blackson (6’4”, 318) can play anywhere along the Bears d-line, and he should round out their top 5 at the position.

A good bet to make it

Last year the Bears opened the season with 5 defensive linemen, but the previous two years they started out with 6. I think they’ll want a true backup nose tackle on the roster, and considering the Bears were getting rookie Khyiris Tonga (6’2”, 326) some reps with the ones in place of Goldman this summer, he’s my pick to stick.

On the bubble

The Bears may roll with an extra player on the d-line for a couple weeks with Edwards starting out suspended, and if so that guy could be veteran Mike Pennell (6’4”, 332). He was a late addition to the offseason roster, but he has appeared in 91 games in 7 years. If he doesn’t make it to the 53-man roster he should certainly stick around on the practice squad.

LaCale London, a 2020 undrafted free agent from Western Illinois University and Peoria (IL) high school, has bulked up to 316 after being listed at 280 his senior year with the Leathernecks, and he will be trying for a practice squad gig again this year. He’ll be competing with a couple UDFAs from this year in Temple’s Daniel Archibong (6’6”, 300) and Stoney Brook’s Sam Kamara (6’2”, 275).

Which of the reserves are you predicting to make the opening day 53-man roster?