Chicago Bears 2017 training camp preview: Defensive Line

Hicks, Goldman lead a young Bears D-line with plenty of potential

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This is the sixth of our position-by-position series previewing what to watch in Bears training camp this summer. The full team reports to Bourbonnais July 26 with the first practice taking place July 27. (H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com)

The defensive line lost the player who was supposed to be the star, Eddie Goldman, for most of last season because of an ankle injury, but also found a playmaker in the form of Akiem Hicks. This offseason they added former Chief Jaye Howard and moved Roy Robertson-Harris from linebacker to D-line. They return Jonathan Bullard and Mitch Unrein. Here are questions to be answered on the D-line in training camp. (H. Rick Bamman - Shaw Media)

Can Akiem Hicks earn a new contract? — Hicks was the most consistent player for the defense last season, starting every game and notching 54 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, 11 tackles for loss and 17 QB hits. He has outstanding size and strength and became a leader for the ‘D.’ Can that performance carry into the start of the 2017 season, potentially making Hicks the recipient of a new deal? He’s in the last year of his contract and at 27, should be a target for Ryan Pace to try to keep around. (Mark Busch - mbusch@shawmedia.com)

Will Eddie Goldman stay healthy and be an impact player? — Goldman carried high expectations into his second NFL season in 2016. Vic Fangio saw big things from Goldman, who came into last year’s camp lighter. A sprained ankle in Week Two, though, contributed to Goldman playing in only six games. He did have 2.5 sacks, but at 23 with the size and movement skills to be a force in the 3-4 defense, he’ll be counted on to be the player the Bears are expecting, and that starts with staying healthy in Bourbonnais. (H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com)

What can Jonathan Bullard do in Year Two? — Fangio said Bullard is “better prepared now to play in the trenches of the NFL.” The third-round pick is bigger and should have a better grasp of the playbook, allowing himself more opportunities to use his quick get-off that the Bears loved when they drafted him. We’ll see in training camp if Bullard has the looks of a player who has taken that leap. (H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com)

Who gets the final roster spots? — Newcomer Jaye Howard had 5.5 sacks in 2015, signed a two-year deal in March but played in only eight games last season and was cut. Can Howard be healthy enough and skilled enough to make the roster and earn a starting spot? The Bears are taking a flier here with a low-risk move that could pay dividends if the 28-year-old is close to what we saw in ’15. Mitch Unrein has been a solid player for the Bears the past two seasons, but he has only two sacks. The 30-year-old will be part of the conversation to get the third starting job with Howard and Bullard. Roy Robertson-Harris had fanfare as an undrafted rookie last year. He’s long, but at a new position. Veterans C.J. Wilson and John Jenkins will compete to be Goldman’s backup at nose tackle. Undrafted rookie Rashaad Coward could also factor in the roster battle and is a practice-squad candidate. (H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com)

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