The Bears defense is loaded with talented veterans, but they aren't the only ones capable of producing impact plays.
Second-year defensive tackle Bilal Nichols proved that in Tuesday's practice at Halas Hall, diving to intercept a pass that was broken up by cornerback Prince Amukamara.
"I just came off the ball, trying to work my technique and get to the quarterback," Nichols said. "One of our defensive philosophies in general is 'run to the ball, run to the ball.' You never know; you could always make a play, whether it's an interception or a fumble.
"So I just ran to the ball. Seeing it get tipped, I [thought], 'I might be able to get this and just try to dive for it,' and I got it."
Nichols was not surprised that he was able to make the difficult catch. After all, the 6-3, 313-pounder was an all-state tight end in high school who had two interceptions as a defensive tackle at Delaware.
"I feel like I've got the best hands on the line," Nichols said, "so I knew I was going to come down with it."
Bears coach Matt Nagy, a fellow Delaware alum, also wasn't surprised.
"He's from Delaware, so we expect that," Nagy said. "He's an athletic kid. His arrow is up. He's playing well and we want to keep seeing that happen."
Looking to build on a successful first season with the Bears, Nichols has excelled throughout camp. He appears to be leaner and stronger than he was last year when he was named to the ESPN.com NFL All-Rookie Team after recording 28 tackles, three sacks and five tackles-for-loss in 14 games.
"I think he's made a lot of growth," defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said earlier in training camp. "It's calmer to him now. He sees things faster. His feet are moving faster. His hands are stronger. He's got that look in his eyes like, 'I've been here before.' He's going to continue to develop. Football's important to him, and he's just going to continue to get better."
Nichols is pleased but not satisfied with how he has performed this summer. Determined to take his game to the next level, he's constantly working on his technique and "all things that d-linemen have to do to be good" such as hand placement, hand usage and pad level.
"Those are the things that I'm consistently going to be working on for the rest of my career," Nichols said. "You can never be too perfect at those things."
That's especially true for Nichols and other young players who are part of a star-studded defense that includes three first-team All-Pros in outside linebacker Khalil Mack, safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Kyle Fuller as well as Pro Bowl tackle Akiem Hicks.
"It's amazing," Nichols said. "Every day in practice, it makes you bring it because you've got so many great players around you, you can't just come out and have a bad day. Every day the intensity is high by your teammates pushing you to new levels and that's what it's all about."
The Bears return to Halas Hall and get back to work in preparation for their Week 2 preseason game against the Giants.