This season, the Chicago Bears will return a vast majority of their defensive starters, most of whom were instrumental to the unit’s top-10 finish in scoring and yardage in 2017.
However, the group is still tasked with replacing defensive end Mitch Unrein, who was one of the unit’s most underrated contributors last season. Indeed, Unrein, who was at his best when defending the run, scored an 83.9 grade from Pro Football Focus last season, which placed him 25th among the 122 qualifying interior defenders. Unfortunately, he signed a three-year, $10.5M with the Buccaneers back in March, so the next time he’ll be in Soldier Field will be in a Tampa Bay uniform during Week 4. And, again, the Bears will need someone to replace him. But, who?
Well, that player could be Roy Robertson-Harris, an undrafted free agent who joined the team in 2016 and had his first cup of coffee in the NFL last season. The Chicago Sun-Times recently shared some interviews with Bears defensive coaches (among them: Defensive Line Coach Jay Rodgers) who had some promising comments regarding Robertson and his potential fit with the defense: “He doesn’t have the mass, meaning the 300-and-plus pounds that maybe somebody else does,” Rodgers said. “But he’s big and he’s strong. He can move. He can swivel his hips a little bit. And he does have a good burst, so he’ll make a lot of hustle plays.” Not a bad review.
Most of Robertson-Harris’ contributions during last regular season came on special teams, where he played on 39.1 percent of the unit’s snaps. Only nine Bears players were in on more special teams plays than Robertson-Harris, whose role in that phase of the game could be on the decline if he gets more playing time on defense. Robertson-Harris played just 20 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps last season, but was in on more than 37 percent of the defensive plays in each of the team’s final four games.
Robertson-Harris also flashed throughout the preseason last year, getting up the field from a defensive end spot to make plays in the backfield. If he can continue to show that kind of burst in the preseason again, he will be in line to show he can do it during when the regular season opens up in September.
Jonathan Bullard provides the main competition for Robertson-Harris to start along side nose tackle Eddie Goldman and fellow defensive end Akiem Hicks. Bullard played on 41.4 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps last year, but was the main man in replacing Unrein when he went down with a season-ending injury.
A third-round pick by the Bears in 2016, Bullard made some necessary improvements last year after being a non-factor as a rookie. A camp battle between Bullard and Robertson-Harris would be something worth keeping an eye on when mandatory minicamp gets underway later this week and when training camp begins in July.