The Chicago Bears have improved their inside linebacker position more than any other this offseason. It’s an easy call as they upgraded from Shea McClellin and a group of undrafted rookies to solid veterans Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. On paper that’s the best upgrade, but when it comes to improved play the Bears defensive line may make a bigger leap.
It starts in the middle with last year’s 2nd round pick Eddie Goldman who exceeded expectations as a rookie, showing the ability to not just stuff the run but also generate interior pressure (4.5 sacks in 12 starts). The Bears added free agent Akiem Hicks to play DE across from Goldman and Hicks has flashed the massive power expected from a guy 6’5, 335 pounds while taking on an unexpected leadership role. The other spot on the line will eventually be manned by promising 3rd round rookie Jonathan Bullard. That gives the Bears three young linemen with the potential to be Pro Bowl caliber players.
Those three are all locks for the team, but the Bears backups have played well enough so far in the preseason to create some questions over who ends up on the final 53-man roster. I’ll be breaking down the Bears depth chart on the D-line, examine who is battling for playing time, and who is fighting for one of the last open spots on the Bears 53-man roster.
Roster Battle: Defensive Line
D-Line players kept last year: Six (Goldman, Jarvis Jenkins, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton, Cornelius Washington, Jeremiah Ratliff)
2016 Projected: Six players
With the Bears having a glut of good linebackers, I think they will be more likely to keep an extra LB than an extra D-linemen. Backup LBs are key special teams players and six defensive linemen give the Bears the ability to have two players at each of the three spots on the Bears three man front.
I’ll break down the six players below; The sure things, probable additions, and those on the roster bubble. At the end I’ll make my prediction for which of the roster bubble players make the final roster, who ends up on the practice squad, and which players end up looking elsewhere for jobs.
2016 Sure Keepers (3): NT Eddie Goldman, DE Akiem Hicks, DE Jonathan Bullard
With two recent high draft picks (Goldman 2nd round & Bullard 3rd round) and one of the Bears most expensive free agent signings in Hicks (2-yrs, $10M), they are all locks for roster spots in 2016.
2016 Probable (2):: DE Cornelius Washington, DE Mitch Unrein
Washington is a wild-card, considering that he has been one of the Bears best D-linemen over the last two preseasons but just can’t stay healthy. He was the best Bears d-linemen in week one of the preseason, but sat out week two due to some injury complications. When healthy, Washington has an explosive burst off the line, power to toss blockers, and speed (4.53) to get the edge or QB when given a chance. His size (6’4, 265) and speed combo also make him an asset on special teams. All that is keeping C-Wash from a spot on the final-53… Is staying healthy.
Mitch Unrein might be the least flashy player on the team. He is the opposite of Washington as he doesn’t have explosive speed or flashy pass rush moves, but what he can do is occupy blockers, shed them to make tackles when needed, suit up all 16 games, read plays to make sure he’s in the right spot, and not make any glaring mistakes. Unrein is a Fox favorite from their time together in Denver and is such a solid, versatile player that there is no chance the Bears release him as long as he stays healthy.
Next: Roster Bubble