Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the defensive line

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the defensive line

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.”

Trey Lance to the Bears? This 2021 mock draft thinks so

Trey Lance to the Bears? This 2021 mock draft thinks so

Barring some kind of career-year from Mitch Trubisky or Nick Foles, the 2021 NFL Draft will likely center around quarterback for the Chicago Bears. And while that's not necessarily good news for Bears fans, it could be worse. Next year's draft class will have a handful of quality quarterbacks with first-round grades.

In the latest mock draft from The Draft Wire, the Bears spend their first-round pick on North Dakota State darling, Trey Lance. The FCS standout is the apple of Draft Twitter's eye during the first wave of summer scouting, with some respected draft analysts like The Athletic's Dane Brugler ranking him ahead of Ohio State star, Justin Fields.

The Bears use the 12th overall pick in this mock on Lance. By the time April rolls around, and assuming Lance stacks another productive season on top of his remarkable 2019 performance, it's unlikely he'll be around outside the top 10.

Lance threw for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns and a remarkable ZERO interceptions in his first full season starting for the Bison. But that's not all; he ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, too.

At an estimated 6-3 and 224 pounds, Lance checks all the early boxes for a franchise quarterback prospect. If he does end up leapfrogging Fields for QB2, he'll be a top-five pick.

But here's the catch: we just don't know enough about him yet. His 2019 season was fantastic, but it's the only one he has on film. And it was against FCS competition, which makes his projection to the NFL more difficult. It's a slippery slope to use Carson Wentz as an example to support Lance's ability to make the jump to the pros. Players like Wentz are the exception; they're few and far between.

It's only July, and the mock draft landscape will change multiple times between now and April. But if Trubisky and Foles fail to deliver in 2020, all mock drafts will have the Bears picking a quarterback. The only question is how high will the Bears be picking in Round 1, and which quarterback (if any) falls to their selection.

Cody Whitehair says he's excited to begin training camp at center

Cody Whitehair says he's excited to begin training camp at center

Cody Whitehair is comfortable and excited about playing center in 2020, a position that isn't new for him but also wasn't deemed his full-time home until midway through last season.

With 2020 training camp scheduled to begin in two weeks, Whitehair is feeling good about his season outlook now that he's back to being the quarterback of the offensive line.

"That's where I feel the most comfortable," Whitehair said on Bears All-Access. "Obviously I'm a team guy and I'll do whatever they ask me to do. If it happens to be where they need me to play a different position, whether that be July 28 when we come in the building or, you know, whenever that may be, you know I'm always down for it."

Whitehair has always been a team-first guy since joining the Bears as a second-round pick in 2016. The former collegiate tackle began his career at center before flipping to guard and then back to center last season. He played 561 snaps at center and 508 at left guard in 2019.

"But you know just being comfortable at that position and being played there for as long as I have in the NFL it's really exciting to be able to be there to start the season again," Whitehair said.

Whitehair will be counted on to keep the offensive line in sync and on task, especially in the run game.

"You want your offense to be able to count on that run and especially in obvious situations," Whitehair said. "You know, that's where an offensive lineman has really got to be, you know, at his best whether that be obvious pass or obvious run.

"So it's something we take pride in and in the run game everything starts up there upfront and making sure we can get a hole open for those guys in the backfield because when we do that we're going to be dangerous."

The Bears' offensive line was recently ranked 22nd in the league by Pro Football Focus with the caveat that they could become one of the NFL's 10-best units if it returns to the level of play we saw in 2018. Whitehair was a big reason for that productive season, and he logged all 1,139 of his snaps at center that year.