Bears coach Matt Nagy had to admit he wasn't even sure whether Eddie Goldman was showing up for training camp as late as Tuesday, when GM Ryan Pace was telling everyone they expected the nose tackle would be there
A year after his opt-out due to the pandemic, Goldman has returned and is elated to be back around teammates.
"The only regret that I do have is just the fact that my teammates went to battle without me, you know?" he said. "That'll be my only regret."
Goldman practiced Wednesday and seemed to weather his return fine, although he was more concerned about the defense's ability to rebound from a down season than his own practice.
"Sky's the limit. Sky's the limit," he said. "I don't want to speak too early but we definitely have a lot and we definitely have a high ceiling."
Goldman's return could make all the difference. His presence occupying blockers led to better run defense. In 2019 and 2020 when the Bears didn't have him or didn't have defensive end Akiem Hicks or both, they allowed 30 more yards rushing per game. When teams could run on the Bears, they found it easier to pass.
Turnovers and sacks declined, and the defense declined overall.
"What he means up front, you got a nose that can take on double teams—that's a thousand pounds—and make it look easy and shed blocks and make it hard for those running backs to get out of the backfield," teammate Khalil Mack said. "It's hell for those guards and those centers.
"Just understanding his strengths, he brings all the intangibles. Not only stopping the run but he can pass rush as well. Just having a guy like that back is huge."
It's probably not surprising the Bears weren't sure Goldman was really returning. Being a nose tackle in the middle of the line, he's normally pretty quiet. He's also difficult to reach.
"Me as a person, I don't really deal with my phone a lot," Goldman said. "I could be over here doing something and my phone would be over here. Sometimes I don't look at my phone."
Nagy does look at his, and when he saw a message on Tuesday during the press conference, he liked what he saw after being previously uncertain about Goldman's return.
"We had no idea and then I got a text message that he's here," Nagy said. "So I did the emoji thing with the thumbs up. And so, I was ready to go. And, um, then I hit it back with the exclamation point, the double whammy exclamation point so I was good.
"So we like having good players show up and good people and Eddie's a huge part of this defense."
Goldman knew he was coming back long ago even if the Bears weren't certain because he'd missed mandatory minicamp.
"As soon as (last season) was over," he said after being asked when he made his decision not to opt out again.
When Goldman wasn't part of the defense last year, the Bears relied on Bilal Nichols or John Jenkins at nose tackle. It wasn't quite the same.
Goldman didn't like seeing his team struggling, especially when he watched games on television.
"There was a lot of anxiety," he said. "You know what I mean? I lived and died with every play. So it was tough."
The overall experience of opting out was frustrating for him from the beginning. He got bored.
"It was pretty simple," he said. "That's all I did was train. I would run here, run there and I would just stay in the house and play with my dogs. You know?"
He'd find himself sitting around thinking about what his teammates were doing.
"It was kind of painful you know?" he said. "Because when you're used to the routine, it's like you know what times they're hitting the field; at this time they're warming up; right around this time they're having the locker room speech. You know what I mean? All of that and just being away from it just kind of killed me."
The Bears don't expect to see the Goldman of old immediately. He made Pro Bowl alternate in 2019.
"It’s going to take some time," Nagy said. "Just putting the pads on and those helmets. Just getting into football shape, it's not hard, but it just takes a little bit of time. What he does as a player, I feel good, having all the time we have here in training camp, letting him at his own pace get back into it.
"The No. 1 concern is when they get here, how do they look? Do they look overweight? Do they look out of shape? He looks great. He does not look out of shape. He did great in the conditioning test today. That's a heck of a start."
There is speculation Goldman and other players who opted out could benefit physically from not being physically beaten up on the football field all year.
"With anybody, it's just like, you know, you get to rest your joints," Goldman said. "I use my hands a lot—my hands feel good, my elbows feel good. Just that stuff. The little stuff."
After a 2020 opt out, he'd give up some of the rejuvenated feeling to have been part of what his teammates went through last year.
"There is always regret when you take a step back from something you love," he said.