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Tonga seeking to make positive first impression

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Bears rookie nose tackle Khyiris Tonga knows that he won't be able to show what he can truly do on a football field until the pads come on in training camp.

But the seventh-round pick from BYU is still trying to impress in non-contact drills—like the ones that were recently held during the team's rookie minicamp.

Tonga is hoping to show coaches this spring that he's quick and adept at using his hands, among other things.

"With pads, we get caught up in trying to bull rush, especially from the nose tackle position," Tonga said. "Without pads, [the goal is] just showing speed, elusiveness and being able to be quick on my feet, nimble and being coachable."

The Bears selected Tonga with the 250th overall pick in the draft that they obtained from the Seahawks after trading down nine spots in the sixth round.

The 6-4, 321-pounder appeared in 47 games in four seasons at BYU, registering 130 tackles, 16.0 tackles-for-loss, 8.5 sacks, 12 pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

Last season Tonga played in 11 games and recorded 36 tackles and 3.5 tackles-for-loss while establishing career highs with 3.5 sacks and five pass breakups.

After the draft, Bears general manager Ryan Pace described Tonga as "a powerful run stopper" who "gives us a lot of size inside."

"We love his makeup," Pace said at the time. "He can push the pocket. He's got a knack for batting passes down at the line of scrimmage. When we looked at our whole front board, he really led all that group in batted passes over the last three years. Just a natural fit with our defense with Tonga."

Doug Farrar of USA Today's Touchdown Wire ranked Tonga as the sixth best defensive tackle in the draft.

In listing Tonga's strengths, Farrar wrote: "Tonga takes onrushing blockers on with a wide base and heavy hands, and he'll swat lighter centers and guards out of the way quickly. Impressive lateral agility showed up especially against Coastal Carolina in 2020, when they seemed to be running outside constantly to avoid him, which didn't work. Slides off centers quickly to make run stops in his area. Closing speed allows him to jump a gap and take down a ballcarrier in space. Stabs with his hands to get free space from the center and then can close on the quarterback quickly. Tackles like an alligator with a malevolent barrel roll, and down the ballcarrier goes."

Tonga told Chicago reporters that he tries to pattern his game after two nose tackles in particular.

"I was a big fan of Haloti Ngata, a defensive tackle for the Ravens," Tonga said. "I enjoyed watching him being able to move at his weight and size. I'm a big fan of Vita Vea, defensive tackle for the Buccaneers right now. I try my best to show and to do the same things as them."

Take an exclusive off-the-field look at Halas Hall during rookie minicamp as players arrive, get fitted for equipment, speak with the media and make their way around the Bears' practice facility.

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