By Bryan Dietzler
Chicago has always prided itself on defense and they have usually had a high performing defensive line. The Chicago Bears hope that they have found the right mix of players along the line for the 2017 season. They have some great talent from last year’s team and some new guys to help them enhance what they already have. Now, they will hope for good health and great production out of a unit that could be one of the best in the NFL.
Now that we have reached the middle of preseason, it’s time to look at the players that are still part of the roster for the Bears along the defensive line. We will look at where they were and what they did in 2016. We will speculate as to whether they will make the roster and what their impact could be in 2017.
Bullard came to the Bears as a third-round pick in last year’s NFL draft. He had a rocky rookie season as he underachieved and didn’t play close to the level that anyone thought he could. He was a disappointment. But thanks to some hard work during the offseason, Bullard is looking better and seems to be much more motivated to play. But can he make the final roster?
Outlook: Bullard has shown, in camp, that he has taken football seriously and is ready to commit to the hard work it takes to play. He has had a solid preseason, so far, and is on his way towards making the final roster. The Bear could use him to help spell the starters. And perhaps, he could work his way towards getting more snaps. But, if he doesn’t keep stepping it up in the preseason and drops off, he may not be with the team when final cuts are made.
Coward has earned quite a following since coming to the Bears as an undrafted free agent this offseason. Early on, the press has steered some of their attention to him and he was a very popular player. But is Coward good enough to stick around and play for Chicago on Sundays? In looking at some of his tape from college, Coward has the size you want, he can react quickly and tackles well. But he doesn’t have a lot of time against top end competition and needs to work on his pass rushing skills.
Outlook: Coward is a nice prospect with a lot of upside. He may just have enough to gain significant interest from the coaching staff to continue his development either as a backup or on the practice squad. It’s likely he won’t be able to make it onto the active roster but will land on the practice squad to develop further. You will see Coward on Sundays at some point but perhaps not in his rookie season. He needs time and training to develop into a confident and reliable NFL defender.
Goldman’s history with the Bears is frustrating one. He has shown flashes of great potential, and when he’s in the lineup, he’s one of their best defensive assets. He plugs up the middle stopping the run and can get to the passer in a flash. The trouble is, he can’t stay healthy. In the last two seasons he has been with the Bears, he has played in just 17 games. When he is in the lineup, he’s one of the best players on the field. And the Bears need him in the lineup as much as possible.
Outlook: Health is going to be the main issue for Goldman. If he can remain healthy the Bears will be in business. If he misses a significant amount of time, the Bears may consider going in another direction next season. We will hope that’s not the case. With Goldman in the lineup the Bears do well on defense and without him, they struggle. If he can last the entire season, their defensive line will be one of the best in the league.
The Bears found a “near” super star in Akiem Hicks last offseason. Chicago signed him as a free agent and all he did was play lights out football. He ended the year with seven sacks having played in all 16 games. Hicks was a force on the defensive line for the Bears and was considered one of their best performers in 2016. Now, he stands poised to have another solid season as he hunts for a long term contract.
Outlook: Hicks will not only start but he will also excel in 2017. Look for him to be part of a much improved and hopefully much healthier defensive line. Hick could be poised for a double-digit sack season but, at the least, he will help keep some of the heat off the other guys to help them get sacks. You should also expect to see Hicks get a contract extension this season.
Howard comes to the Bears with six years of experience having played with two different teams. His start in the NFL was slow and last year he only played in eight games. However, the Bears saw something in him that they liked, so they brought him on board. After an average camp, Howard will push for a roster spot. But can he make the team?
Outlook: There were a lot of people that liked Howard coming to Chicago. He might make people a little nervous, however, because he didn’t see a lot of playing time last year due to injuries. Still, he was productive in the eight games he played in registering 23 tackles and one sack. Howard would work well in a rotation and if he can stay healthy, and give the Bears another productive player on the defensive line. Howard should be able to make the team.
Jenkins has been in the NFL since 2013 and has started just 22 games. Last year, he played in just two games with the Seattle Seahawks. Jenkins is a career underachiever who hasn’t lived up to the potential he displayed in college. So why would the Bears be interested in him? Their thinking had to be that maybe Jenkins could resurrect his career in Chicago. And Jenkins liked the Bears when visiting them as a free agent so he signed with them right away. There was a mutual attraction between the two.
Outlook: Jenkins is a bubble player and it’s going to be difficult to predict if he makes the roster or not. There is a lot of proven talent ahead of him and some of that talent is better. And with a track record of doing less than he is capable of, do the Bears want someone like that on the roster? He may not make the active roster and that’s ok especially if he is not motivated enough to play 100% on every snap.
Lewis-Moore is a fourth-year player who played one season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2015. He was active in just five games that year and had three tackles. The word out of camp was that he had been doing well and could compete for a roster spot. But he might just strictly be a depth player at this point. Lewis-Moore is not dynamic nor is he a high-quality player but he could be a backup and work in rotation on the defensive line.
Outlook: I think this guy is a bubble player. His overall body of work is not impressive but he has some talent. However, the Bears have a lot of talent on the defensive line. If he doesn’t make it with the Bears, he may land on another team and be a backup there.
Roy Robertson –Harris
When training camp started I thought that Robertson-Harris was a good candidate to end up on the practice squad. But after some solid training camp work and a good game against the Cardinals, I think he may be able to earn a spot on the active roster. Robertson-Harris has one year in the NFL and has some learning to do but if the Bears want a high energy guy with a lot of potential, then Robertson-Harris is their guy.
Outlook: Robertson-Harris’ potential is big. If he can keep things up and play well over the final two games of the preseason, he will make the team. He has a great skill set and a lot of room to develop. Keeping him on the roster and developing him would be a good thing. He could play on the line rotating with the starters giving them a break. Look for Robertson-Harris to remain on the active roster providing he has a strong finish to the preseason.
Update: After his performance against the Tennessee Titans Robertson-Harris should be a lock to make the team when final cuts come next weekend.
Unrein has been a Bear since 2015 and played with Fox in Denver. He is a favorite of Fox. Unrein has managed to start several games for the Bears and has not done too bad when he is out there. But, the talent around him this year is much improved and he is beginning to look like the odd man out. We may have seen the last of him in Chicago.
Outlook: I think that Unrein’s days in a Bears’ uniform are coming to an end. The Bears have a lot of young talent that they will want to keep and will want to keep them over the older guys. This means that he could be gone. I like him and think he is a very stout defensive lineman but there is so much talent it’s difficult to see him sticking around. Consider him a “bubble” player.
The final player we will profile is seven-year veteran C.J. Wilson. Wilson has been a part of the Bear’s defense for one season and is poised to make a strong push to earn a roster spot. He has been in the NFL since 2010 and, like Unrein, is one of the older players on the defensive line. Wilson falls in the same category as Unrein in that there is so much younger talent available; he might be the odd man out.
Outlook: Wilson is on a one-year deal so cutting him won’t cost Chicago a ton. But will Chicago, do it? His veteran experience is going to be valuable. However, the Bears have other guys who are younger and might have more potential. Like some of the other veteran guys, I think that Wilson sits on a bubble and depending on how the Bears feel about their younger guys, he may not make the team.
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