LAKE FOREST – After going through an entire season without nose tackle Eddie Goldman in 2020, the Bears are facing the prospect of starting their 2021 season without the 2019 Pro Bowl alternate.
Goldman missed three days of practice this week with a knee injury. Head coach Matt Nagy said Goldman tweaked his knee in practice Monday.
“We’ll see how it goes [Saturday] and see where he’s at,” Nagy said Friday. “If he gets better tomorrow or Sunday and that whole deal, that would be good for him. If he’s not, that’ll give an opportunity for other guys below him.”
If Goldman isn’t available Sunday, defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga is listed as the backup nose tackle on the team’s depth chart. Tonga is a 25-year-old rookie seventh-round draft pick out of BYU. The Bears also brought in veteran defensive tackles Damion Square and Margus Hunt on the practice squad. Presumably one of them would be elevated to the 53-man roster if Goldman can’t play.
Square, 32, has played in 91 career games. He appeared in 16 games for the Los Angeles Chargers last season, with one start. Hunt, 34, has appeared in 104 games and spent the 2020 season with the Cincinnati Bengals (nine games) and New Orleans Saints (four games).
A year ago, the Bears tried to use Bilal Nichols at the nose tackle spot to begin the season but eventually moved him back to his more natural position at defensive end. The fourth-year pro could help out at nose tackle if needed.
“The good thing about playing on the D-line here is that all of us train for all positions,” Nichols said. “Just in case anything ever happens, we have versatility.”
Nichols is a player who is just scratching the surface of his potential. The Bears probably don’t want him playing out of position, if they can help it. That could leave the Bears starting the rookie Tonga on Sunday.
Tonga played 11 games for BYU last season, totaling 36 tackles, 2.5 sacks, five passes defended and one forced fumble.
“He works hard,” Nichols said of Tonga. “He wants to be great. He comes in every day with the intent to get better and better, always asking questions, always looking for a way to get better. Player to player, you respect that. Those are the type of guys you love to go to war with.”
It could also be a by-committee effort at nose tackle. Backup defensive tackle Angelo Blackson, who is listed behind Akiem Hicks on the depth chart, also likely will be involved. Hicks, too, will be a focal point for the defensive line. The Bears typically rotate players in and out on the defensive line pretty frequently anyway.
Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. is unavailable this week and next. He’s serving a two-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
“I do believe, too, that’s probably – of all positions on our team – that’s something we’ve got a lot of depth at right now, which is good,” Nagy said. “So we’ll see the next two days, but I feel good with what [defensive line coach Chris Rumph] has done with those guys.”
That depth could be tested in Week 1.