When the Chicago Bears report to training camp later this month, defensive line is a position that will look vastly different. A positional group that’s been led by names like Akiem Hicks over the last few years lost DL coach Jay Rodgers this offseason. Veterans Mario Edwards Jr. and Bilal Nichols will also return, despite the future of Eddie Goldman being uncertain.
Rodgers departure alone is a cause for concern, as he oversaw the development of names like Roy Robertson-Harris and Brent Urban, two names that overperformed throughout their tenure with the Bears. Both Robertson-Harris and Urban departed via free agency this offseason.
Depth for the Bears on the defensive line currently includes Angelo Blackson, Sam Kamara, LaCale London, Mike Pennel, and Khiyris Tonga. Only Blackson and Pennel have appeared in NFL games before, with Kamara, London, and Tonga being rookies or undrafted free agents.
In addition to depth being a concern, age is also another factor not being discussed enough. Nichols may be just 24 years old, however, Hicks, the undisputed leader of the position will be 32 years old in November and is set to be a free agent in 2022.
The importance of a good defensive line is simple: Defensive lineman eat up double teams, freeing up linebackers and edge rushers to make plays, while also giving the secondary more time in coverage. In the Bears context, that means names like Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, and Eddie Jackson will have additional opportunities to make plays.
It’s possible that Blackson or Tonga emerge rather quickly but Chicago knows that on paper, this group looks a tad bit weaker compared to last year, which could impact the performance of the defense. The lack of depth is still a cause for concern, especially for a group that many viewed as being a major strength on the Bears defense, something that could change very quickly in the early parts of the 2021 season.