With training camp starting later this month, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ units heading into Bourbonnais. Today’s group: The defensive line.
1. Will Eddie Goldman stay healthy?
When healthy, the 6-foot-4, 320 pound Goldman has been a run-stopping menace in the defensive interior. But “when healthy” is critical here: An ankle injury limited Goldman to only six games and a total of 198 snaps last year. It’s not a coincidence, then, that with Goldman largely absent, Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranked the Bears’ run defense 28th out of 32 teams in 2016. John Jenkins was signed to back up Goldman, but the Bears need the former Florida State Seminole to be as healthy as possible in 2017.
“We missed him and he was, I think, primed to have a good season,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said in May. “So if we can get him back to where he was, and a little bit better, I think we'll have a good player there.”
2. What kind of a player will Jaye Howard be?
The versatile Howard broke out in 2015 with 5 1/2 sacks, which earned him a two-year, $12 million deal from Kansas City. A hip injury limited him to only eight games last year, though he wasn’t particularly effective when healthy, notching just one sack and 24 tackles. The Bears signed Howard after Kansas City released him in the spring, hoping to add someone who could be a starter in Fangio’s base 3-4 and provide flexibility in nickel packages. If Howard is healthy and re-captures the form he had two years ago, then his one-year contract is a steal; if not, he at least can provide some depth at a cheap price.
"I'm definitely coming out here with a chip on my shoulder," Howard said during OTAs. "Me and (Akiem) Hicks are already pushing each other. We're looking to have a big year and hopefully we can stay here together. Just watching him on film last year and what Jay Rodgers was able to do with him (career-high seven sacks), I'm hoping I can take my game to that next level as well."
3. Can Jonathan Bullard put a disappointing rookie year behind him?
Howard, Bullard and Mitch Unrein will compete to start alongside Hicks and Goldman, and ideally for Rodgers and Fangio, it’ll be a close competition. But that’ll only happen if Bullard can flush a meek rookie season (one sack in 296 plays) and prove he was worth 2016’s 72nd overall pick. Whiffing on on a third-round pick isn’t a disaster, but for a Bears team trying to build through youth, getting something out of Bullard would certainly be nice.
“He understands more of what’s expected of him playing in the NFL, in the trenches,” Fangio said. “I don’t think he was quite ready for that last year, both physically or mentally. Emotionally I think he’s more ready. We’re hopeful that he does well.”