Mon, 30 Nov 2020

Nichols, Edwards strengthen defensive line

Chicago Bears
24 Oct 2020, 00:37 GMT+10

Nathan Smith

Against the Carolina Panthers, two Bears defensive linemen notched their first sacks of the season.

Bilal Nichols and Mario Edwards Jr. have helped fill the hole left when nose tackle Eddie Goldman opted out of the 2020 season. Along with Brent Urban and Roy Robertson-Harris, Nichols and Edwards have become shining examples of the Bears' ability to find and plug in defensive linemen in unexpected places.

"That's a credit to the culture we've built in the D-line room," said Nichols. "We have a lot of talent in the D-line room. We're able to sub guys out without any dropoff at all. Everybody comes in and plays well, [they] do their job and makes plays. So having a presence like that in the room, it makes it easier on everybody. Everybody can make a play. Everybody can be dominant."

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The Bears drafted Nichols in the fifth round of the 2018 draft out of Delaware. A year earlier, they signed Robertson-Harris as an undrafted free agent. Urban arrived midseason in 2019 after being cut by the Tennessee Titans.

Edwards became the latest addition, signed five days before the start of the season. Edwards was a top recruit coming out of high school, a college teammate of Goldman at Florida State and a second-round pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2015.

While Goldman's absence may have been one of the reasons the Bears became interested in the newly available Edwards, it was former Raiders teammate Khalil Mack that made Edwards interested in coming to Chicago.

"When I found out the Bears were interested, it was good to come back and play with Khalil," said Edwards. "That was one of the main reasons I made my decision. And then also talking with coach [Matt] Nagy and coach Chuck [Pagano] and just understanding the defense and how the Bears defense, how big it is here, that was something I wanted to be a part of."

Similar to Nichols, Edwards puts the credit to the culture of the position group. He speaks highly of defensive line coach Jay Rodgers.

"I didn't know the reputation of coach Jay," said Edwards. "But when I got here, coach Jay is one of those guys [who], he's going to make sure everyone knows everything. He treats the starters just like he treats the backups. Nobody gets any special treatment, and he coaches everybody the same. He's definitely doing great with me, just helping me understand more of the game of football a little better in different ways, and he's been great to me."

Edwards sacked Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the fourth quarter, forcing the Panthers to settle for a 48-yard field goal. Edwards, still only 26 years old, despite five years of NFL service, is hoping it will be the first of many.

"It's always exciting to get the first one," said Edwards, "and it was pretty cool to watch it on tape, and I'm definitely looking forward to getting more and helping the team win."

Nichols has adjusted to playing inside as the team's primary nose tackle. His sack came on the second play of the game, nearly forcing a safety and setting up a Tashaun Gipson Sr. interception on the next play.

Nichols credits outside linebacker Robert Quinn for setting up his fourth career sack.

"Rob did a great job of getting off the ball and bull-rushing his man," said Nichols. "And me just reacting off my instincts, I kind of seen him come inside and I just replaced him-just a natural game-type of thing. I came home clean. That's really all on Rob. Rob did a great job. Him being the caliber of player he is, he drew a lot of attention on that play, and I was just able to capitalize off it."

Nichols also had good things to say about Edwards and what his presence brings to the unit.

"When you watch him on tape," said Nichols, "his get-off, the way he pass-rushes, the way he plays the run, he's a very explosive person. I felt like he complimented our room very well. If you notice, we have different body structures in our room as a D-line. We have different guys who do different things. We have versatility. Each guy has their own thing that they're good at."

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