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Hicks leads promising group of linemen

Posted Jul 18, 2017

The Bears defensive line that arrives in Bourbonnais next week will be led by veteran Akiem Hicks, who had a breakout first season with the team last year.

The following is the sixth of nine position previews in advance of training camp.

The Bears defensive line that arrives in Bourbonnais next week will be led by veteran Akiem Hicks, who had a breakout first season with the team last year.

The most pleasant surprise in the 2016 free-agent class led Bears defensive linemen with 71 tackles, seven sacks, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles while starting all 16 games.

"He just plays with an attitude, an attitude that you want your d-linemen playing like," inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman said last season. "It's not just him, but him being him, he's just one of those guys that demands attention. He just thinks he's the best thing smoking out there and he's going to play like it, too."

A year after adding Hicks, the Bears bolstered their defensive line in free agency for the second straight offseason by signing Jaye Howard and John Jenkins.

Howard has appeared in 45 games with 28 starts over five NFL seasons with the Seahawks (2012) and Chiefs (2013-16). After playing in two games as a rookie with Seattle in 2012, he appeared in 43 games with 28 starts the past four seasons with Kansas City.

During the 2014 and 2015 seasons he made 23 starts and recorded 93 tackles and 6.5 sacks, with 5.5 of those coming in 2015 when the Chiefs went 11-5 and reached the AFC playoffs. Last year Howard appeared in eight games with four starts before suffering a season-ending hip injury. He finished the year with 23 tackles and one sack.

Jenkins has appeared in 51 games with 22 starts over four seasons with the Saints (2013-16) and Seattle Seahawks (2016), recording 113 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two pass breakups, six tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Jenkins was selected by the Saints in the third round of the 2013 draft out of Georgia when Bears general manager Ryan Pace worked in New Orleans' personnel department.

The 6-3, 359-pounder was released by the Saints last Nov. 9 and signed by the Seahawks Nov. 15. Jenkins played in nine games with one start last year, registering 13 tackles.

One key to the Bears' success this season will be the health of third-year nose tackle Eddie Goldman. After showing promise while playing in 15 games as a rookie in 2015, the second-round pick from Florida State was limited to six contests last year due to an ankle injury.

"Eddie only played 15 percent of the plays last year, which is very small, so we missed him," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said in May. "He was primed to have a good season, so if we can get him back to where he was, and a little better, I think we'll have a good player there."

The Bears are hoping that Goldman can revert to the form he showed late in his rookie year when he registered 10 tackles, three sacks and three tackles-for-loss in a three-game span.

Expectations are also high for 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard, a defensive end from Florida who didn't make much of an impact as a rookie.

Bullard appeared in 14 games with one start, registering 24 tackles and one sack.

"Jon didn't play a whole lot last year," Fangio said. "Hopefully he's ready. You always look for a lot of improvement from Year 1 to Year 2.

"I think he's better prepared now to play in the trenches of the NFL than he was last year. He's gotten a little bit bigger. He understands more of what's expected of him playing in the NFL, in the trenches. I don't think he was quite ready for that last year, both physically or mentally. Emotionally, I think he's more ready. We're hopeful that he does well."

Also back this season are dependable veterans Mitch Unrein and C.J. Wilson.

One player to watch in training camp will be Roy Robertson-Harris, who moved from linebacker to defensive end this year after spending his rookie season in 2016 on injured reserve.