As complicated as football can be, it’s still a simple game. Winning the trenches sets a team up for consistent success. The ability to disrupt both the pass and run game changes offensive game plans. That was on full display for the Bears in the preseason.
One of their most impressive units in the August tune-ups was the defensive line headlined by Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman, but there were two other young players who made big impressions; Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, Bullard being the more well known of the two. A much heralded third-round pick from the 2016 draft class, Bullard displayed tantalizing burst and disruption off the line at Florida. A consistent force in the backfield that fell to the Bears at pick 72.
There were questions about how Bullard would translate to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s two-gap scheme and Bullard had his struggles his rookie season. It was a tough transition for him. Bullard needed development, strength gains and there were questions about his focus and commitment last year.
It was a big offseason for Bullard to step up and to his credit, Bullard answered the bell and then some. He was a force against Denver and Arizona before he was sidelined with a thigh injury, which effectively ended his preseason.
Firing off the ball, living in the backfield, showing consistent pad level/power and blowing up blocks, Bullard was arguably the most impressive Bears player on either side of the ball the first two games and his impact was against first and second team offenses.
If Bullard can continue that level of play into the regular season, he’s a huge addition, literally, to an already loaded defensive front.
The other potential bright spot for the defensive line is Robertson-Harris. The second year player out of UTEP is a relative unknown. He was undrafted in 2016 and the Bears used that season as a development year on the reserve list.
Projected as more of an OLB/EDGE out of college, the Bears asked Robertson-Harris to gain weight in the offseason as they had plans to move him to the defensive line. The Bears had high hopes for Robertson-Harris before training camp, but I’m not sure even they expected what they saw from him in the preseason.
If Bullard was the most impressive defensive player, Robertson-Harris was a close second, and his coming out party was in the desert against the Cardinals. Box scores don’t always tell the entire story, but Robertson-Harris’ play in that game matched the stats: 2 sacks, 3 tackles, and a pass deflection. He also added a punt block against Denver.
Robertson-Harris is an athletic big man with tons of natural power and strength. He has good bend for his size and a nose for the ball. He is also versatile enough to play the 5-technique and flip inside on sub-packages.
These two young players still have a lot to prove, but Fangio has to be grinning from ear to ear with what he saw from his shiny new toys.
If Bullard and Robertson-Harris can carry their preseason success over consistently, the Bears defensive line makes for one of the most formidable in the NFL and that should scare the hell out of opposing offenses. Some new monsters are coming to Chicago.