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Bears position breakdown: The defensive line

Fifth in a position-by-position series of training-camp capsules on every player on the Bears’ 90-man roster. The Bears open training camp on July 20 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

96

AKIEM HICKS

Defensive end Seventh year

6-5, 332 Regina (Canada)

Acquired: Signed as two-year, $10 million contract as a free agent in 2016.

Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks had 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss last season. (David Banks/Getty Images)

Age: 28

NFL experience: 93 games (65 starts) in six seasons.

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, but signed with the Bears in free agency in 2016. After an impressive first season with the Bears (seven sacks) he signed a four-year, $48 million extension ($30 million guaranteed) at the start of the 2017 season and was even better – 8.5 sacks 15 tackles-for-loss and two fumble recoveries.

Notable: Hicks has started all 32 games in his two seasons with the Bears.

The skinny: It’s usually a good sign when a player earns the big contract, and then keeps getting better. Hicks has exceeded expectations in both seasons with the Bears and is motivated to take the next step — a no-doubt-about it Pro Bowl season that lifts the defense to new heights. With Vic Fangio back, the pieces are in place to do that.

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91

EDDIE GOLDMAN

Defensive tackle Fourth year

6-4, 320 Florida State

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

Age: 24

NFL experience: 36 games (32 starts) in three seasons.

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. Was solid in 2017, playing 15 games and doing all the dirty work in a top-10 defense — 43 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three tackles-for-loss and one fumble recovery.

Notable: After missing 10 games in 2015, Goldman only missed one in 2016 – Week 14 against the Bengals with a hip injury.

The skinny: At 24, coming off a mostly injury-free season and in a top-10 defense on the rise, Goldman is a prime candidate for a breakout season. 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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90

JONATHAN BULLARD

Defensive end Third year

6-3, 296 Florida

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

Age: 24

NFL experience: 30 games (four starts) in two seasons.

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. Looked like he was ready for a breakout season after an impressive training camp and preseason in 2017, but while that didn’t materialize, Bullard still made noticeable improvement. Finished with one sack, two pass-breakups and two tackles-for-loss. Started three of the last four games.

Notable: Bullard’s 437 snaps last season were more than twice as many as his rookie season (198).

The skinny: With Mitch Unrein leaving in free agency, the left defensive end job is Bullard’s to lose entering training camp. The Bears have been patient with his step-by-step progress, but this likely will be the best opportunity he’s going to get to prove he can be as productive as the Bears thought when they drafted him in the third round in 2016.

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95

ROY ROBERTSON-HARRIS

Defensive end Third year

6-7, 294 Texas-El Paso

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016.

Age: 25

NFL experience: 13 games (no starts) in two seasons.

Background: Posted modest numbers at UTEP but showed flashes of big-play ability. 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 — last year and made a bigger impact at the end of the year than at the beginning. After getting zero defensive snaps in Week 8-12, he averaged 25.4 in the final five games, including 38 in the season finale vs. the Vikings (four tackles, one TFL).

Notable: Robertson-Harris’ listed weight of 294 is 26 pounds more than his listed weight of 268 last season.

The skinny: With his size, speed and length, Robertson-Harris is an intriguing prospect who figures to benefit in his second year at a more familiar position with his hand on the ground at end. But the leash probably isn’t as long as it was last year.

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92

JOHN JENKINS

Defensive tackle Sixth year

6-3, 327 Georgia

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2017.

Age: 29

NFL experience: 59 games (23 starts) in five seasons.

Background: A third-round draft pick by the Saints in 2013 (82nd overall — a pick the Bears traded to the Dolphins for Brandon Marshall), 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 started one game and lost his rotation spot and was cut in Week 10. The Bears signed him in the 2017 offseason and he played eight of the final nine games, with eight tackles.

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

The skinny: Jenkins is a quality depth player as a run-stopper in the middle behind Eddie Goldman. He’s not Eddie Goldman, but he’s a good veteran guy to have around as an insurance policy. That said, if fifth-round pick Bilal Nichols shows he can contribute as a rookie, Jenkins’ spot could be precarious.

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98

BILAL NICHOLS

Defensive tackle Rookie

6-4, 290 Delaware

Acquired: Fifth-round draft pick (145th overall) in 2018.

Age: 22

NFL experience: None.

Background: Late-bloomer whose college offers were Delaware, Bucknell, James Madison and Monmouth. Moved from end to tackle as a freshman at Delaware, Nichols became a starter as a junior and had five sacks and five pass break-ups as a 4-3 DT in 2016, 5.5 sacks and five more pass break-ups as a 3-4 nose tackle in 2017.

Notable: Nichols has an 80 1/4-inch wingspan and ran a 4.95 40 at the scouting combine.

The skinny: With his size, athletic ability and instincts as an inside rusher, Nichols has the potential to be an impact player in the NFL — but probably not this season. Still, he’s in an emerging defense, with more good players around him, so with his work ethic and ability to learn well, you can’t count him out.

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97

NICK WILLIAMS

Defensive end Fifth year

6-4, 310 Samford

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2018.

Age: 28

NFL experience: 28 games (no starts) in four seasons.

Background: A seventh-round draft pick (223rd overall) by the Steelers in 2013, Williams spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a knee injury. He was on the Steelers’ practice squad in 2014 when the Chiefs signed him to their 53-man roster in Week 13. Williams played in 14 games as a reserve for the Chiefs in 2015 — when Matt Nagy was the quarterbacks coach — and 10 games for the Chiefs and Dolphins in 2016. Did not play in 2017 after getting cut by the Dolphins in the preseason. Signed with the Bears in April off a mini-camp tryout.

Notable: Williams has been active for two playoff games — with the Chiefs against the Texans in 2016 (eight defensive snaps) and with the Dolphins against the Steelers in 2017 (18 defensive snaps).

The skinny: A long shot to make the roster, but Williams is a good athlete (4.84 40; 33-inch vertical) who could prosper if he’s at the right place at the right time. Still, getting the opportunity he needs could be problematic here.

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76

ABDULLAH ANDERSON

Defensive end First year

6-4, 295 Bucknell

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018.

Age: 22

NFL experience: None.

Background: A good athlete, former basketball player who didn’t play football until his senior year in high school. Four-time all-conference pick and the Patriot League Defensive player of the Year and second-team FCS All-American as a senior last year when he had 42 tackles, 2.5 sacks, nine tackles-for-loss, two fumble recoveries, an interception and a blocked PAT. He worked out for the 49ers and Seahawks after the draft before signing with the Bears.

Notable: Anderson blocked four kicks in his college career, including three field goal attempts. He had two sacks, shared a tackle-for-loss and forced a fumble in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January.

The skinny: A developmental prospect who played with aggressiveness and has a knack for making plays, Anderson is stepping up in class at the NFL level and will have to prove he deserves a spot on the practice squad.

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78

CAVON WALKER

Defensive end First year

6-2, 278 Maryland

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018.

Age: 23

NFL experience: None.

Background: Three-star recruit arrived at Maryland as a a 218-pound linebacker, but after putting on weight following a foot injury as a sophomore, he was switched to defensive end/tackle and ended up at 280. He had 8.5 tackles-for-loss as a junior (three starts). Became a full-time starter as senior in 2017 — finished with 38 tackles and six tackles-for-loss. Had a sack against Northwestern and tackles-for-loss against No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 10 Ohio State.

Notable: Has played linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle in college. Teammate of Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman at Friendship Collegiate Academy in Washington, D.C. in 2011. First name is pronounced “SAY-von.” 

The skinny: With his varied background and versatility, Walker has a chance to make his mark as a defensive end or tackle, but he’ll start way back on the depth chart at either position. He loves the underdog role, so the Bears figure to get his best effort.

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74

BUNMI ROTIMI

Defensive end First year

6-4, 275 Old Dominion

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018.

Age: 22

NFL experience: None.

Background: A former walk-on, Rotimi played defensive tackle in 2014-15 and defensive end in 2016-17 and finished with 26.5 tackles-for-loss and 19 sacks — second most in school history.  Had 5.5 sacks, five pass break-ups and a blocked field goal in nine games as a senior in 2017, when he missed three games with knee/back issues. Started on the same defensive line as current Bears teammate Rashaad Coward on a 10-3 team in 2016. (Coward played defensive line for the Bears last year and was switched to guard this season).

Notable: Rotimi forced a fumble that Coward returned seven yards for a fumble in the fourth quarter of a 51-35 victory over Southern Miss in 2016.

The skinny: Yet another motivated, hard-working roll-of-the-dice defensive lineman with a long way to go, battling for a practice squad shot. Rotimi has enough pass-rush potential at end to keep an eye on him.

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