Matt Slauson is not easily impressed. The Bears left guard, rated by many as every bit the equal of two-time Pro Bowl’er Kyle Long on the opposite side, has seen the elites among interior defensive linemen over his six NFL seasons. Within the early days of training camp, when the pads came on and practices took on real significance to linemen, Slauson recognized he was seeing something special in Eddie Goldman.
“As a veteran offensive lineman, you get a rookie across from you and you can think, ‘This is going to be great,’” Slauson said, laughing, then shaking his head. “But not with him, and I learned that really fast. He’s got really good tools and I think he’s going to be really, really good.
“Every time I’ve got to face him, whether it’s in one-on-one’s or in ‘team,’ the guy is just playing beyond his years.”
The Bears, who invested their 2015 second-round choice in Goldman, need precisely that now from the former Florida State All-American and All-ACC lineman. They are preparing to begin the season against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, who will be without All-Pro wideout Jordy Nelson and fully expected to pound a fledgling Bears 3-4 scheme with running back Eddie Lacy. Two games later the Bears go to Seattle and Seahawks power back Marshawn Lynch, and the Bears will be without current starting nose tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, suspended for the first three games by the NFL.
Goldman was a central figure in the defense even before the Ratliff suspension. Coincidentally perhaps, as far back as the NFL Scouting Combine, Goldman singled out Ratliff as the one NFL player who’d influenced him the most.
The rookie has rebounded for a less-than-auspicious start to his Bears career, forced out of practice in minicamp and training camp due to dehydration. No down-lineman has played more snaps than Goldman through the first two preseason games – 30 of 71 snaps against the Miami Dolphins, and 29 of 58 over the weekend in Indianapolis.
But his chief accomplishment may be surviving and starting to prosper against Slauson, Long and center Will Montgomery. Against the offense’s interior three, Goldman has learned one crucial survival skill.
“When you put your hand down and the ball's about to snap, you have to have a plan going up against these guys,” Goldman said. “Because, I mean Slauson's been in the league about eight years and Kyle's a Pro Bowler. Will, he's been in the league for like 11 so you definitely have to have a plan and you have to be detailed with your technique as well.”
Was it a bit of a humbling learning process?
“Yeah, yeah, it was,” Goldman said. “I knew it was going to be tough coming in, but yeah, it was.”
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Goldman was not an immediate starter at Florida State, which had national-championship talent on defense ahead of him; defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan was a second-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2014, defensive end Tank Carradine was a second-round selection by the San Francisco 49ers and Vic Fangio in 2013.
The result was that Goldman played end, tackle and nose tackle, netting six sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in 37 career games.
“He’s a very young [21 last January] player,” said coach John Fox. “He’s young even for his class. But I think he’s mature enough in what we’re asking to be flexible with the things he does. I don’t know that we’ll be lining him up at outside linebacker or anything. He’s a big body that’s willing to work. He’s kind of mature for as young as he is. He’s a very young man.”