It started last year when Eddie Goldman was a rookie, usually exactly what veteran offensive linemen like to draw as a matchup in pass-protection drills. But one vet said that all of a sudden, guys needed to tie a shoe or adjust a helmet when their pairing was with the young nose tackle.
“He’s a dominant player,” said Cody Whitehair, who went against Goldman this year in training camp. “He ranks up there with the best I’ve played against, just a sound player, good with his hands and feet and that’s what makes him good. He is just a very good player.”
Goldman was ticketed to become an anchor for the Bears’ 3-4 scheme, a massive (335-pound) figure over a center or guard with the ability to push a pocket as well as handle gap responsibilities vs. the run. Goldman established himself as precisely the talent the Bears hoped to be getting with their No. 2 draft choice. He finished his rookie season with 4.5 sacks, six tackles for loss and 19 quarterback pressures while leading all Bears defensive linemen with 39 tackles despite missing game 16 with an ankle injury.
That was an unwanted foreshadowing, as Goldman, already emerging as a top talent in general as well as a central figure in what the Bears envision as a top-10 defense, suffered a high-ankle sprain in the Philadelphia game in Week 2. This after Goldman had flashed with a half-sack and six tackles at Houston the week before.
The impact of the loss to the defense was immediate and significant. The Bears gave up 199 rushing yards a season-high 31 points in the loss to the Cowboys, the one game in which players and coaches conceded was the one game this season where the Bears were completely dominated.
“Our first game after Eddie’s injury was Dallas,” said coach John Fox, “and that was a rough game for all of us.”
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Goldman returned to practice on Monday for the first time since that injury. A focus had been on finding an ideal weight that maximized a strength-agility balance, and now part of the task is to regain the feel for his game after nearly two months laid up.
“I was smaller, so I was moving around more fluidly, more swiftly,” Goldman said. “That was a long time ago, man. I can't really reflect too much on it. It was a point of getting to where I can run to the ball time after time after time and then at the same time not be tired and keep going.”
Despite some early weight and conditioning issues last year, Goldman logged the second-highest snap total (516) among defensive linemen, 50.1 percent of all opponent plays. That was continuing this season, with Goldman playing 55 percent of the combined Texans and Eagles snaps even with his going down in the Philadelphia game.
Now he becomes a central figure in the Bears’ second half, one of the numerous key figures (Jay Cutler, Eddie Royal, Kevin White possibly) whose returns already have infused some added energy in the locker room and on the practice field.
But the return process will take some time, and Goldman’s availability for next Sunday against Tampa Bay remains an open question until later this week.
“There’s nothing really like practicing and playing football,” Fox said. “You try to simulate it whether it’s the offseason conditioning program, all the different things we do to keep guys in shape, keep their weight down, those types of things.
“But until you really get out there and practice, they find out there’s muscles they didn’t really even know about that first practice. Eddie’s done a good job being a pro. He’s developed that mindset, he’s in good shape that way. Now it’s just getting in football shape.”