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Bilal Nichols has big goals: ‘All-Pro ... Super Bowl’

After being the primary fill-in for nose tackle Eddie Goldman last year, the versatile Nichols is back at defensive end and looking forward to having Goldman in the lineup. “We feel like we’re back to full strength now.”

Bears defensive lineman Bilal Nichols had career-highs of five sacks and 13 quarterback hurries last season.
Bears defensive lineman Bilal Nichols (98) had career-highs of five sacks and 13 quarterback hurries last season.
Jim Mone, AP Photos

After an “OK year” as nose tackle Eddie Goldman’s primary replacement in 2020, Bilal Nichols is back primarily playing defensive end. It’s a comfort zone that has him thinking big in his fourth NFL season.

“All-Pro, simply. All-Pro and winning the Super Bowl,” Nichols said. “That’s the type of standard I hold myself to every day and reach that ultimate level. If I can reach that level, I can help our team tremendously. That’s all I’m focused on right now.”

The 6-4, 299-pound Nichols has been a steady, versatile, productive player since he was drafted in the fifth round from Delaware in 2018. He had a career-high five sacks, 13 quarterback hits and his first interception in 2020.

Though Nichols can play anywhere on the line, being back in his comfort zone — and having Goldman at the nose — figures to be a boon for the defensive line.

“It feels amazing,” Nichols said. “We all know what caliber of player Eddie is — Pro Bowler. Best at his position. Just to have a dominant guy like him back with you, holding down the middle with Akiem [Hicks] on the other side, it’s amazing. We feel like we’re back to full strength now.”

The timing couldn’t be better for Nichols, who is in the final season of his four-year, $2.75 million rookie contract and in line for a big raise. But he insisted that’s the last thing on his mind.

“I’m just focused on this year,” Nichols said. “I don’t really know. We’re just going to play it out and go from there. I’m just focused on wining the Super Bowl this year, and all that stuff will take care of itself.”

The Fields effect

Rookie cornerback Thomas Graham said he hangs out with rookie quarterback Justin Fields — playing games and going over film — and already can feel the impact of Fields’ personality.

“Energetic. Positive. He likes to walk around with a little swagger,” Graham said. “Stays confident. I like to be around a confident person because it just [instills confidence] in yourself.”

The hoops team

Jimmy Graham’s basketball background came into play in practice Friday when the 6-7, 260-pound tight end used his size to beat 5-9, 178-pound cornerback Duke Shelley to a pass.

“Big-bodied him,” coach Matt Nagy said. “Duke tried to get the ball from him, and [Graham] just used his size.

“We joke around in our offensive meetings every now and then about who our starting five would be in basketball in that [offensive] room.”

Nagy said the team would include Graham (“at the 5”), quarterback Nick Foles (“running the point”) and wide receivers Javon Wims, Thomas Ives (“he’s sneaky good”) and Allen Robinson.

The Bears’ sprint relay

The Bears have three wide receivers with sub 4.4-second 40-yard-dash speed — Marquise Goodwin (4.27) Damiere Byrd (4.28) and Darnell Mooney (4.38). So who would be the fourth runner on a 4x100-meter relay team? Goodwin picked Fields, who ran a 4.44 at his Ohio State pro day.

This and that

Rookie left tackle Teven Jenkins (back) did not practice again Saturday. Nagy did not give a timetable for his training-camp debut.

• Safety Deon Bush had the first interception of camp, leaping to pick off Andy Dalton.

• Graham was given a “load management” day.

• Nagy said the Bears will be in full pads for the first time at practice Tuesday at Soldier Field.