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Jaye Howard: At full strength, Bears’ improved D-line ‘could be scary’

Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman hits Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer as he throws, forcing an incompletion in the first half of the Bears' 24-23 victory Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Defensive lineman Jaye Howard hasn’t been with the Bears for long, but long enough to see just how good nose tackle Eddie Goldman can be.

“I didn’t know him until I got here,” Howard said. “But by playing alongside Dontari Poe [the two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle with the Chiefs], I can definitely see he can be in that same caliber — especially with the pass rush. They’re both big guys who can move well and disrupt the quarterback. Any time you can get that from the nose, you’ve got something.”

Finally healthy after missing 10 games last season with a high ankle sprain, Goldman is re-establishing himself as the centerpiece of a 3-4 defensive line that spearheaded a stout defense in the first two preseason games. The Bears’ first- and second-team defense allowed 40 rushing yards on 15 carries (2.7-yard average) in the first half against the Broncos in the opener and 17 yards on nine carries (1.9 average) against the Cardinals on Saturday night.

“I feel good,” Goldman said. “Just moving around. The defense is playing great. We’ve got a sense of urgency.”

After spending most of last season rehabilitating his injured ankle — even after he returned from the original injury, he missed four of the final eight games — Goldman is happy to be back in a groove through two preseason games. But this is just a start for the 2015 second-round pick from Florida State. He can’t wait for Sunday’s game against the Titans in Nashville.

“I’ve still got some improvements to make,” he said. “I’m eager to play in this next game, because I had a couple of missed assignments. I’m going to try to perfect those in practice and try to do better against the Titans.”

Already, the depth on the line appears improved. With ends Akiem Hicks and Mitch Unrein sitting out with injuries, Howard and second-year end Jonathan Bullard started and were effective in their place.

“The D-line is definitely jelling,” Howard said. “We’ve got some key guys out right now. When we get those guys back, it could be scary, especially if we can all stay healthy. The key is staying healthy.”

In the second half Saturday, reserve end Roy Robertson-Harris had two sacks in an impressive performance. He missed last season after an illness in training camp and was moved from outside linebacker to defensive end.

“I feel like we’re deeper at that position than we were this time a year ago,” coach John Fox said.

Bullard continued his emergence as a playmaker. He combined with Howard to stop David Johnson in the backfield on the Cardinals’ second play of the game, added a quarterback hit on Carson Palmer and stopped Chris Johnson for no gain on a third-and-goal play at the 1-yard line.

“You can see he’s more comfortable in the scheme,” Howard said. “He’s going out there and just playing. You can see his get-off popping on tape. I told him the other day, ‘Just keep building and stacking those plays. Remember the success you’ve had and bring it to the next play.’ He’s been doing that. He’s definitely cutting it loose.”

Howard himself is a wild card. He’s still working his way back from offseason hip surgery. But he likes where he’s headed.

“It’s slowly starting to come back,” he said. “I’m used to being a dominant player on the field, so right now it’s just continuing to take it step by step, practice by practice. But I definitely can see it coming. There are flashes where I’m like, ‘OK, I’m ready to go.’ I’ve just got to keep building off those flashes.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

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