This summer the Bears plan to continue giving their defensive linemen reps at multiple positions in training camp as they've done in the past.
The versatility that creates should help them replace nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who has opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19.
Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers told the media last week that returning veterans Bilal Nichols, John Jenkins, Abdullah Anderson and Brent Urban all will take some reps at nose tackle in training camp.
"We'd like to have options," Rodgers said. "What you'd like to have is the best two, three, four guys out there on the field that you could possibly put out there with the ability to substitute when you need to and not have any drop-off. So we're going to continue to train everybody at every position."
Of course, whoever lines up in Goldman's spot no doubt will benefit from playing alongside tackle Akiem Hicks, who returns in 2020 after being limited to five games due to knee and elbow injuries last season. But replacing Goldman won't be easy.
Selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2015 draft out of Florida State, the 6-3, 318-pounder has appeared in 67 games with 63 starts over five seasons. Goldman has recorded 153 tackles, 12.5 sacks and 17 tackles-for-loss. Last year he earned Pro Bowl alternate honors after registering 29 tackles, one sack and two tackles-for-loss.
"He has very good foot speed, which puts him in position to win blocks," Rodgers said. "He's got very good upper body strength and he stays in really good balance. Those are things that Eddie's been really good at. And because of all those traits, he's always in a dominant position. When he takes on blocks, he's able to get off blocks."
While Goldman will be missed, the Bears are confident in the depth and talent they possess on their interior defensive line.
"There are some guys on our team that do some things that Eddie does just as well; they just haven't done it in that position for as long," Rodgers said. "Eddie's been the anchor point in the middle for five years now. Through experience, you learn. Eddie didn't just arrive in his first year and have all that ability. He learned how to play the game. We've got some guys who are getting more experience in those positions and are learning to play the nose position at a high level."
Expectations are high for Nichols, a third-year pro who was limited last season with a broken hand he suffered in a Week 2 win in Denver. The 2018 fifth-round pick from Delaware missed three games and then played with a cast on his hand for several weeks.
Jenkins also will be counted on. The veteran defensive tackle signed with the Bears as a free agent in April, returning for a second stint with the team. The 6-3, 327-pounder appeared in eight games with one start for the Bears in 2017, recording eight tackles. Jenkins has also played for the Saints (2013-16), Seahawks (2016), Giants (2018) and Dolphins (2019).
"I think any time you bring a player back, you had a really good experience with him before," Rodgers said. "He has size. He has length. He has power. He's got really good foot speed. He loves to play the game of football. And he's very coachable."
Anderson is a second-year pro who played in six games last season, recording four tackles, 1.0 sack and 1.0 tackle-for-loss.
"He took some valuable snaps last year," Rodgers said. "He's got really good size. He's got really good quickness. And he's got really good hands. He's very sneaky with his hands. He's intelligent. He understands the scheme—exactly what we're going to do—and he puts his body in position to win battles."
Defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris also should help fill the void created by Goldman's absence. Last season the 6-5, 292-pounder ranked second on the line with 30 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.0 tackles-for-loss while leading the unit with 10 quarterback hits.
"Roy has established himself to be a really good defensive end in our 3-4 system and he has played a lot of three-technique or what we're calling inside-one technique in our sub defenses," Rodgers said. "He has never played a nose position in base defense, but that's OK. You're playing in the 'A' gap (between the center and guard) once you get into your sub world.
"As far as his opportunities, we're going to continue to evaluate those opportunities as the training camp goes on. The more you can do, the more you can get to do. So if he shines like we're expecting him to shine, then he'll get more opportunities, just like everybody else in the front. The more they do, the more opportunities you're going to get."