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Know Your Bears — The Defensive Line

Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks is entering the final year of his contract. (AP)

Seventh in a position-by-position series of training-camp capsules on every player on the Bears’ 90-man roster. The Bears open training camp July 27 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

96

AKIEM HICKS

Defensive end Sixth year

6-5, 336 Regina (Canada)

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2016.

Age: 27.

NFL experience: 77 games (49 starts).

Background: A third-round draft pick (89th overall) by the Saints in 2012, Hicks became a full-time starter as a 3-4 defensive end in his second season. But he fell out of favor early in 2015 and was traded to the Patriots in Week 4. He excelled in New England, with three sacks, four quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Despite a late appeal by Bill Belichick himself, Hicks signed a two-year $10 million contract ($5 million guaranteed) with the Bears, who made the best per-year offer.

Notable: Hicks started all 16 games last season with the Bears and had 71 tackles (50 solo), seven sacks, five tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

The skinny: With a chance at likely the best contract of his football career, Hicks is motivated for a big year after a productive first season with the Bears. Everything is in place for him to take the next step — a strength player with pass-rush ability, Hicks is in the right position in Vic Fangio’s defense, with front-seven players around him who should be better in their second and third seasons under Fangio.

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91

EDDIE GOLDMAN

Defensive tackle Third year

6-4, 320 Florida State

Acquired: Second-round draft pick (39th overall) in 2015.

Age: 23.

NFL experience: 21 games (17 starts).

Background: Made the Pro Football Writers of America all-rookie team in 2015 after finishing with 39 tackles, 4.5 sacks and six tackles-for-loss, but ended the season on injured reserve with an ankle injury he suffered in Week 16. Injury problems marred his 2016 season — he played in only six games and never more than three in a row because of a high (left) ankle sprain. He tried to play through it after missing six games, but had to sit out twice more and was put on injured reserve in Week 16.

Notable: Goldman had six tackles and a half-sack in the opener against the Texans when he was at full strength. In all, he had at least a share of a sackin three of the six games he played.

The skinny: Though he’s still a long way from Tommie Harris in his prime, Goldman clearly makes a difference in the middle, and his improved footwork, balance and body control are indicators he’s still getting better. If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason to doubt he’ll take the next step toward the Pro Bowl.

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95

JAYE HOWARD

Defensive tackle/end Sixth year

6-3, 301 Florida

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2017.

Age: 28.

NFL experience: 45 games (30 starts).

Background: A fourth-round draft pick (114th overall) by the Seahawks in 2012, Howard played in only two games as a rookie and was waived in the cutdown to 53 in 2013. The Chiefs signed him immediately off waivers and Howard blossomed into an elite run-stopper in 2014-15 (24 starts), including 5.5 sacks in 2015 when he was on a contract year. He signed a two-year, $10 million deal ($8.3 million guaranteed) with the Chiefs, but played in only eight games (four starts) because of a hip injury that landed him on injured reserve. He was waived in April after failing a physical.

Notable: Howard was limited in offseason workouts and practices after signing a one-year, $775,000 contract with the Bears, but is expected to be 100 percent at the start of training camp.

The skinny: The Bears have a dubious history with rehabilitating injured players in the Pace/Fox era, but if Howard is healthy, he could be a major find. There was nothing wrong with his production when healthy in Kansas City and he’s clearly motivated to prove the Chiefs wrong for giving up on him.

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90

JONATHAN BULLARD

Defensive end Second year

6-2, 290 Florida

Acquired: Third-round draft pick (72nd overall) in 2016.

Age: 23.

NFL experience: 14 games (one start).

Background: An All-American at Florida after getting 17.5 tackles-for-loss in 2015, Bullard made little impact as a rookie with the Bears — 24 tackles (18 solo) with on sack and three tackles-for-loss. He was inactive in Week 13 vs. the 49ers. He played 198 defensive snaps (31.0 percent) — the lowest snap-count percentage of the seven defensive linemen the Bears used in 2015.

Notable: Bullard played 51-of-130 defensive snaps (39.2 percent) in the Bears’ final two games, vs. the Redskins and Vikings and had a tackle-for-loss in each game. His only sack came against the Colts in Week 5.

The skinny: The Bears passed on a likely plug-and-play defensive end in the first round of the draft, so they’re counting on Bullard to give them the upgrade they’re looking for. The Bears say it took Bullard a year to get comfortable at his position at the NFL level and will play much more instinctively in Year 2. We’ll see about that.

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98

MITCH UNREIN

Defensive end Eighth year

6-4, 299 Wyoming

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2015.

Age: 30.

NFL experience: 83 games (16 starts).

Background: Signed by the Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2010, Unreins was cut and signed to the Broncos’ practice squad. He was a back-up in four seasons with Denver (54 games, three starts), though as a fullback he caught a touchdown pass from Peyton Manning in 2012. Signed with the Chargers in 2015 and was cut in Week 3 and signed by the Bears. He started four games for the Bears in 2015 (32 tackles, one sack) and nine games last season (33 tackles, one sack).

Notable: Unrein played 49.8 percent of the defensive snaps last season — second most among the defensive linemen behind Akiem Hicks (86.6).

The skinny: Unrein is dependable and steady run-stopping end and contributes on special teams, but his starting spot is one the pass-rush starved Bears are looking to upgrade — with Jonathan Bullard and Jaye Howard at the top of the list. Unrein still figures to be in the mix, but for him, there’s a fine line between battling for the starting job and the roster bubble.

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69

C.J. WILSON

Defensive tackle Eighth year

6-3, 290 East Carolina

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in Week 11 in 2016.

Age: 30.

NFL experience: 84 games (20 starts).

Background: A seventh-round draft pick (230th overall) by the Packers in 2010, Wilson played in 50 games (11 starts) as an effective run-stopping defensive end in four seasons with Green Bay. As a rookie, he started in Super Bowl XLV, when the Packers beat the Steelers 31-25. He led all Packers defensive linemen in tackles per snap in 2012. Signed with the Raiders in 2014 and started seven games but has bounced around since being cut in training camp in 2015 — the Raiders, Lions, Saints and Bears. He had one sack and two tackles-for-loss in six games with the Bears (one start) last season.

Notable: Wilson led all Packers defensive linemen in tackles per snap in 2012 and was third in 2013. He has 7.5 career sacks and 17 career tackles-for-loss.

The skinny: A solid, consistent, unspectacular run-stopper, Wilson is a valuable veteran on a winning team, but expendable on rebuilding teams. If the Bears are making progress in developing defensive linemen, there likely won’t be room for him here.

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73

JOHN JENKINS

Defensive tackle Fifth year

6-3, 359 Georgia

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2017.

Age: 28.

NFL experience: 51 games (22 starts).

Background: A third-round draft pick (82nd overall) by the Saints in 2013, Jenkins started 21 games in his first three seasons as a run-stopping tackle with New Orleans — including 12 starts in 2015 — but was dogged by injuries and inconsistent production. In 2016, he was beaten out by Tyeler Davison for the starting tackle spot, started one game but lost his rotation spot and was cut in Week 10. The Seahawks signed him the next week and he played in two games for Seattle.

Notable: Jenkins was drafted by the Saints when Bears GM Ryan Pace was the Saints’ director of player personnel.

The skinny: Jenkins provides depth as a run-stopper in the middle, but if Eddie Goldman is healthy, that would be a significant drop-off. One factor in Jenkins’ favor — he’ll likely have better players around him than he did most of his time in New Orleans. The former third-round pick still has a chance to produce in the right place at the right time.

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74

ROY ROBERTSON-HARRIS

Defensive end Second year

6-7, 268 Texas-El Paso

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016.

Age: 24.

NFL experience: None.

Background: While posting modest numbers in four seasons at UTEP (138 tackles, 25 tackles-for-loss, 10.5 sacks), the impressive-looking Robertson-Harris showed flashes of playmaker potential. The Bears were intrigued enough to not only sign Robertson-Harris as an undrafted free agent, but stick with him after he was put on IR following a heat-related illness in training camp. He was moved from outside linebacker to defensive end — his primary position at UTEP — in the offseason.

Notable: Robertson-Harris flashed in limited preseason snaps last season — he had a tackle-for-loss (dropping Chiefs receiver Da’Ron Brown for a three-yard loss) and a quarterback hit vs. the Chiefs.

The skinny: With his size, speed and length, Robertson-Harris is an intriguing prospect who figures to benefit by playing a more familiar position with his hand on the ground at end. He likely will need a lot of seasoning, but figures to get that chance — on the practice squad if not at the back end of the 53-man roster.

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68

RASHAAD COWARD

Defensive tackle Rookie

6-5, 280 Old Dominion

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2017.

Age: 22.

NFL experience: None.

Background: Former two-star prospect from Brooklyn had a workmanlike four-year career at Old Dominion, with a little burst at the end — he had a career-high 50 tackles and 7.5 tackles-for-loss as a senior after getting seven total TFLs in his first three seasons. Scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery vs. Southern Miss last season. As a junior, he had four tackles, shared a sack and shared a TFL vs. North Carolina State guard Joe Thuney, a starter on the Patriots’ Super Bowl team last year. Team captain as a senior.

Notable: Coward blocked three kicks at Old Dominion — two field goals and a PAT. His 5.03 time in the 40 at his pro day was .03 behind first-round pick Jonathan Allen. Listed at 6-6, 310 at Old Dominion last year. Now 6-5, 280.

The skinny: Yet another late bloomer from a small-time school the Bears seem to like to roll the dice on, Coward likely has a long way to go to transition to the NFL game. Buried on the depth chart, Coward likely will be working to earn a spot on the practice squad.

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67

KAPRON LEWIS-MOORE

Defensive end Fourth year

6-4, 315 Notre Dame

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2017.

Age: 27.

NFL experience: Five games (no starts).

Background: A sixth-round draft pick (200th overall) by the Ravens in 2013 from Notre Dame after suffering a torn right ACL in spent his rookie season on IR, then missed the 2014 season after suffering a torn left Achilles. He played in five of the Ravens’ first six games in 2015 and made three tackles, but was inactive for the final 10 games. Lewis-Moore spent the 2016 season on the practice squad.

Notable: Lewis-Moore recovered from a dislocated MCL in his left knee in 2011 to start all 12 games as a senior, with six sacks and 8.5 tackles-for-loss before suffering the torn ACL in the national championship game against Alabama.

The skinny: The Bears must see some potential to even take a roll of the dice on a player with Lewis-Moore’s injury history. At 100 percent, Lewis-Moore has always produced, but injuries keep getting in the way. Just about everything is going to have to go right — health, opportunity, production — for Lewis-Moore to make it here.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

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