No Bears player was happier to participate in the team's first training camp practice Wednesday than Eddie Goldman.
After opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, the veteran nose tackle worked out with his teammates at Halas Hall for the first time since December 2019.
"It felt good just getting back out there with the teammates and running around, making plays," Goldman said. "Today we had a short practice, but it was fun."
Goldman described his decision to sit out last year as "very hard" and conceded that stepping away from football after five seasons with the Bears was "really challenging."
"It really took a toll on me," said the 2015 second-round pick from Florida State. "Especially when I watched the season and how it played out and how we made the playoffs and everything. It was something to experience, but it wasn't really a fun thing."
Asked if he had any regrets about not playing in 2020, Goldman said: "[There's] always regret when you take a step back from something you love." The 27-year-old later added that "the only regret that I do have is just the fact that my teammates went to battle without me. That'll be my only regret."
With that in mind, it's no surprise that Goldman didn't enjoy watching Bears games on television from his home in California.
"It was kind of painful, you know?" Goldman said. "Because when you're used to the routine, it's like you know what times they're hitting the field. At this time, they're warming up. Alright, around this time, they're having the locker room speech. All of that and just being way from it just kind of killed me.
"[There] was a lot of anxiety. It was like I couldn't really enjoy it because I was so much in it. I lived and died with every play, so it was tough."
Goldman was a little concerned about the reception he'd receive from teammates upon returning from his one-year hiatus.
"That was something I was thinking about," Goldman said. "When I came back, everybody greeted me with love. I feel like everybody's just happy to be back in the building together."
Members of the Bears defense are especially elated about Goldman rejoining them and the boost that he'll provide. The run defense ranked first in the NFL in 2018 (80.0 yards per game) and ninth in 2019 (102.0) with him and 15th last year (113.4) without him.
"It's a great feeling to have that guy back in the building, just understanding the type of person he is, but the type of player he is as well," said outside linebacker Khalil Mack. "I know it's going to be a fun one. Any time you've got Eddie G, he makes life easier for you."
The powerful 6-3, 318-pounder often accomplishes that by occupying two interior offensive linemen, which allows teammates to roam free and make plays.
"What he means to the front?" Mack said, repeating a question from a reporter. "You got a nose that can take on double teams—that's a thousand pounds—and make it look easy and shed blocks and make it hard for those running backs to get out of the backfield. It's hell for those guards and those centers. So, just having a guy like that back is huge."
The Bears expected Goldman to report to training camp. But after he skipped the voluntary offseason program and the mandatory full-squad minicamp in June, they weren't 100 percent certain he'd show up until he arrived at Halas Hall Tuesday.
"When [reporters] asked us that [Tuesday], we had no idea," said coach Matt Nagy. "And then I got a text message that he's here. So, I did the emoji thing with the thumbs up … then I hit it back with the double whammy exclamation points, so I was good. We like having good players show up and good people and Eddie's a huge part of this defense." So, [Tuesday] was a good day."
The Bears took to the fields at Halas Hall Wednesday for the first full-squad practice of Dr Pepper Zero Sugar Training Camp.