Replacing Eddie Goldman Is Only Bears Opt-Out Problem

Gene Chamberlain

The Bears got past the COVID-19 opt-out deadline without further damage

They're still trying to deal with the damage from losing one key player to the coronavirus opt-out last week.

Defensive coaches think they have an answer on the roster to losing a Pro Bowl alternate on their defensive line, although it's fairly certain none of them would turn their back on an established lineman if GM Ryan Pace signed one.

Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, Brent Urban, John Jenkins and Abdullah Anderson all will take a crack at it in the coming weeks.

"It's an opportunity for all those guys: Bilal, Roy, Brent Urban, Ab," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said Thursday when coaches did a Zoom conference all with Bears media. "Luckily we've got good depth and Ryan's done a great job building the roster.

"We're gonna miss Eddie, but like coach (Matt Nagy) said, totally respect and understand his decision. And so we support him 1000 percent. We all get it."

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers makes a habit of cross-training linemen at different positions, but this is a unique situation. Playing nose tackle demands more of a specific body type than playing defensive end does. It takes someone heavier and more powerful.

"We've trained Bilal at the nose, we've trained Abdullah Anderson at the nose, we've trained in the past John Jenkins at the nose," Rodgers said. "Brent Urban has never played nose. We're training him at the nose position. We'd like to have options.

"At the end of the day, what you'd like to have is the best two, three, four guys out there on the field that you could possibly put out there with the ability to substitute when you need to and not have any drop off. So we're going to continue to train everybody at every position, and we just have some options right now, especially at this part of camp."

At 6-foot-3, 313 pounds, Nichols is really the only defensive end starter with nearly the ideal size to move.  

"I think here are some guys on our team that do some things that Eddie does just as well, they just haven't done it in that position for as long," Rodgers said. "Eddie's been the anchor point in the middle for five years now. Through experience, you learn. Eddie didn't just arrive in his first year and have all that ability. He learned how to play the game. We've got some guys who are getting more experience in those positions and are learning to play the nose position at a high level."

Goldman's size/speed ratio makes a big difference.

"The things that Eddie is really good at, he has very good foot speed, which puts him in position to win blocks," Rodgers said. "Now he's got very good upper body strength and he stays in really good balance. Those are things that Eddie's been really good at. And because of all those traits, he's always in a dominant position. So when he takes on blocks, he's able to get off blocks."

So Jenkins is the ideal candidate. The Bears had Jenkins in 2017 and cut him as 2018 training camp ended. After he played in Miami last year, the Bears can count their blessings they signed a legitimate nose tackle before the opt-out decision by Goldman.

"I think any time you bring a player back, you had a really good experience with him before," Rodgers said. "He has size. He has length. He has power. He's got really good foot speed. He loves to play the game of football. And he's very coachable." 

Jenkins is the only natural nose tackle among the group of linemen, at 6-3, 327 pounds.

"I think after he was released here in 2018, I watched him when I had time, watched him in the offseason, (to) see how he was doing," Rodgers said. "Is he still playing the way I felt he was capable of? I felt like he was playing well. 

"When there was an opportunity to grab him in free agency, there were conversations with me and Ryan and (assistant director of player personnel) Champ (Kelly) and (player personnel director) Josh (Lucas) and all the people in scouting, as well as Chuck (Pagano), and we made the decision. You know, here's an opportunity to grab a guy who's a good football player, and that's what you want on your front is good football players. And then you find a way to piece them into the lineup."

This is one piece they can fit in immediately.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven

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