Revamped Chicago Bears defensive line will face challenges in 2021

Oct 28, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks (96) reacts during the first half against the New York Jets at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears defensive line has been as good as any in the NFL over the last few years. Led by Akiem Hicks, the Bears have boasted a unit that’s generated consistent pressure, collapsed pockets, and blown up plays before they even develop. Depth has been a theme for the Bears over the last few years as well. Behind Hicks, the Bears have found solid rotational players like Roy Robertson-Harris, Mario Edwards Jr., and Brent Urban. Solid contributors like Eddie Goldman and Bilal Nichols have emerged as well.

Chicago now heads into 2021 with a new-look defensive line. Hicks will be 32 years old in November and Goldman is set to return but opted out last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nichols logged 16 starts last season, racking up five sacks, 40 tackles, and seven tackles for loss. Mario Edwards Jr. emerged as a pleasant surprise last season with four sacks and six quarterback hits.

Behind Hicks, Goldman, Nichols, and Edwards Jr. are players who have never taken a snap for the Bears. Angelo Blackson was signed in free agency. Thomas Schaffer, LaCale London, Daniel Archibong, and Khyiris Tonga are all undrafted free agents. With the departures of Robertson-Harris and Urban this offseason, Chicago lost depth.

The challenge Chicago faces is getting the most out of a positional group that’s getting older but also has some unknown commodities. Hicks, Goldman, and Nichols will form a formidable trio but when it’s time to step up, what will Blackson, Edwards Jr., London, Archibong, and the rest of the group do?

“My mentality here is just to come in and work and to compete,” Tonga said via the Bears official Youtube channel. “I think we’ve been doing that the past couple of days. Just showing speed, elusiveness, being able to be quick on my feet.”

Depth will be tested throughout the season for the Bears. If a key contributor like Hicks or Goldman goes down, the Bears need to be confident that players like Tonga and Blackson can compensate enough. The Bears are simply hoping that an aging defensive line does just enough to allow the rest of the defense to flourish.