When Ryan Pace was hired as general manager, it was a first domino in a chain of change that was expected to go through a franchise-worst Bears defense like a tsunami. “Tsunami” actually might not be strong enough to describe what is playing out on that side of Bears football.
After Pace hired defense-based coach John Fox, and Fox added 3-4 guru Vic Fangio as coordinator, the organization set off on a path that right now projects to have new starters in potentially all seven defensive positions from the front-seven that finished the 2014 season.
First came the offseason signings: linebackers Sam Acho, Mason Foster and Pernell McPhee; then defensive linemen Jarvis Jenkins and Ray McDonald.
Add to that list the name of Eddie Goldman, the Florida State defensive tackle who at 6-4, 334 pounds projects to be the starting nose tackle between Jenkins and McDonald. The Bears invested a second-round pick, 39th overall, in Goldman, who comes to the Bears with slightly lower mileage because of playing behind veterans like Timmy Jernigan at Florida State.
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“This is a young player, third-year junior, two-year starter,” said general manager Ryan Pace. “When I think about the standout traits with Eddie Goldman it’s strength, stout at the point of attack, he’s very instinctive, he gets off blocks. I really like the pad level he plays with. Steps up in big moments.
“In the Clemson game this year, there’s three game-changing plays he makes to basically win that game for Florida State. This is a stout, strong nose tackle that anchors the center of your defense. I think he’s an ascending player.”
Goldman’s favorite player model in the NFL is Jeremiah Ratliff, who is the only defensive lineman listed as “NT” on the Bears’ initial roster. Now Goldman can be penciled in as Ratliff’s replacement, if not this year, eventually. Ratliff is in the final year of his two-year contract and entering his 10th NFL season at age 34 as of Aug. 29.
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But Ratliff should not be written off, has come back strong from injuries before and is valued by the new staff for precisely the versatility that lets him compete at both end and nose in the 3-4.
One scenario is Ratliff working as an end or at nose tackle in a rotation and in passing situations, given his pass-rush abilities which are far superior to either Jenkins or McDonald.
“He's so athletic,” Pace said. “He's versatile to do all that. He's got quickness, athleticism, balance. That's what I like about Jay a lot is his versatility. That will all sort out. But we'll get our best players on the field and Ratliff will definitely be out there and I like his position flexibility.”