Detroit Lions: NFC North interior defensive line preview
Key returning players: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris
New additions: Jalen Dalton (R)
Key losses: None
Among NFC North teams, the Chicago Bears underwent the least change on their defensive interior this offseason. That’s hardly a bad thing though, when the unit’s top three returning members are a the center of the league’s best ranked defense from a year ago.
Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman are two of the finest defensive tackles in the game, and they play right next to each other on most downs. Both are tremendous run defenders, and even managed to chip in with 10.5 sacks between them in 2018. That’s just tremendous production from players of their size and position.
Bilal Nichols, their primary returning backup and occasional starter, does represent a significant downgrade in talent from those two, meaning the Bears could be in trouble inside should one of the starters go down with an injury. But Nichols is solid for his role, and at just 290 pounds, he is more nimble and a little more versatile than his hefty linemates.
In the Bears’ standard 3-4 alignment, Hicks and Goldman were occasionally joined by Jonathan Bullard, who carries a very similar frame to Nichols. Essentially any of these four could line up inside in a even man front. The Bears even showed occasional fronts with just Goldman and Hicks.
However, don’t expect too much change here from new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. He has worked with some massive three man fronts in the past (see: 2011 Baltimore Ravens). Anticipate seeing a lot of these four in various combinations this year, but rarely using four down-linemen at a time.
The Bears are in great shape in the middle of their defense, and the rest of the players on that side of the ball feed off of that strength. Depth though, could be a concern for this group. Third year man Roy Robertson-Harris quietly had a solid 2018 for Chicago, but aside from him, a group of undistinguished rookies and young players with limited experience make up the rest of the depth chart.
Despite three consecutive last place finishes in the division prior to 2018, former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio steadily helped turn the Bears’ defense into one the league’s top units during his four years in the Windy City. They were the class of the NFL last season, helping lead them to a division title.
Fangio has since left to become the head coach of the Denver Broncos. Thus, some might foresee a decline in defensive performance in Chicago. However, with their collection of talented interior defensive linemen, any abatement is unlikely to be seen from this unit in 2019.
Which NFC North team do you think boasts the best group of interior defensive linemen? Let us know in the comments section below.