To Bears fifth-round draft pick Bilal Nichols, it doesn't matter that he went to an FCS school in Delaware rather than a traditional FBS powerhouse.
"I just look at it like if you can play, you can play," said Nichols, a defensive lineman the Bears selected with the 145th pick in the draft. "I don't really look at it like FCS-FBS. If you can ball, you can ball. That's just another chip I have on my shoulder."
Nichols was a four-year contributor and two-year starter at Delaware. Playing in a 3-4 defense for the first time last year as a senior, he was named first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association after registering 56 tackles, 5.5 sacks and one interception.
Nichols is lining up at defensive end with the Bears, who feel that the 6-4, 306-pounder is a good fit for their defense due to his toughness and potential as a pass rusher. Making the transition to the NFL isn't easy, but it's a challenge that Nichols is excited about.
"The main thing I would say is the verbiage is definitely different," Nichols said. "That's something that you've got to get used to as a player, switching over learning a new verbiage.
"This defense is a lot more aggressive, which I love, and I feel that it's going to give me a real great opportunity. In Delaware, we were a lot more patient waiting for blocks, where here they want you to knock guys back and then get up the field. That's something that I really like a lot."
Nichols has also really liked working with defensive line coach Jay Rodgers, who has worked with the rookie to hone his technique.
"Coach Jay Rodgers is the man," Nichols said. "I can't wait to really get started with him. He's really helped me out a lot, even over this past weekend [at rookie minicamp]. The coaching that he's given me, every day I got better and better."
At the start of the rookie minicamp last Thursday night, Nichols got an opportunity to chat with former defensive tackle Steve McMichael. "Mongo" played 13 seasons with the Bears from 1981-93 and was a key member of the 1985 championship team. He was one of seven Bears alums who spoke with the team's rookies.
"I had a great conversation with him," Nichols said. "He's a very passionate guy. When you talk to him, you could feel his words. You could feel his energy. You could tell he really loves the game."
There are photos of McMichael and other members of the famed 1985 Bears defense scattered on walls throughout Halas Hall, including a huge black-and-white mural just outside the defensive meeting room.
"When you look at the pictures of that '85 defense, that's something that really hits me," Nichols said. "How ferocious they played. How dominant they were. How they just controlled games. That's how I would love to see the defense I play in."