Pretty much everything regarding the Chicago Bears in the past few weeks is dripping with optimism. They have a revamped quarterback room, a deeper offensive roster, and managed to retain most of their defensive core despite a difficult salary cap situation. However, there is one lingering issue that caught many by surprise. That being the curious case of Eddie Goldman.
Like several players last year, the star nose tackle decided to opt-out of the 2020 season. This over fears regarding the COVID-19 virus. Expectations were he’d be back this year as vaccines rolled out and player safety was more certain. However, something strange happened. Goldman missed voluntary OTAs, and then a week later he missed mandatory minicamps. The latter was not excused. This led to widespread speculation about what is happening with the 27-year old.
Could he opt out a second time? Or maybe even retire?
It’s hard not to think such things at this point. Something is clearly going on with Goldman. Head coach Matt Nagy and teammate Danny Trevathan both expressed optimism he’d be present and ready for training camp. However, actions by the team off the field suggest they aren’t going to bank on that. They drafted big BYU nose tackle Khyiris Tonga in the 7th round of the draft.
Now they’d added another underrated piece to the mix. Most casual fans won’t know the name Mike Pennel. He was an undrafted free agent for the Green Bay Packers in 2014. After a mostly reserve role there, he spent two seasons with the Jets. Then upon signing with the Kansas City Chiefs, he was overshadowed by several star teammates like Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Chris Jones. This made it easy to miss how effective he was. Particularly when it came to stopping the run. Now he’s officially a member of the Bears.
— Sports Agent (@andysimms) June 17, 2021
Welcome back, Big Mike Pennel.
His motor and relentlessness was just as important as his brute strength down the stretch last year. pic.twitter.com/VOHWD11t5D
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) March 25, 2020
Chris Jones didn't collect a stat on Bashaud Breeland's pick, but he was crucial in forcing Garoppolo to drop his eyes and delaying the throw.
That bought time for Mike Pennel to make a man-sized push-pull on the center and lay a hit on Garoppolo as he threw. pic.twitter.com/70y3meAJIt
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) February 5, 2020
I don't care if run defense matters or not, I heart Mike Pennel. Stuffs Gordon at the LOS, waves to the Chargers sideline 😂 pic.twitter.com/gvJnRsv5kd
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) August 11, 2020
Pennel's 84.1 run defense grade from 2018-20 is 14th among all interior defenders with at least 100 snaps over the span
His 8.4% of run defense snaps with a negative grade is t-6th-best. Very consistently good run defender on the interior https://t.co/s48RyPdIpg
— Brad Spielberger (@PFF_Brad) June 17, 2021
Pennel is not Eddie Goldman but he’s still good
At 6’4, 330 lbs, the 30-year old Pennel has the physical body made for a 3-4 nose tackle. His play showed it plenty of times as well. Offensive linemen often found it difficult to move him off his spots, forcing running backs to seek openings elsewhere. One can never discount his impact on the Chiefs’ run defense in 2019. Through the first seven games where he didn’t play, they allowed 148.85 yards per game. After he was inserted into the lineup, that number dropped to 111.
Pennel is not at the same level Eddie Goldman is in terms of talent. However, he’s proven he can be a reliable presence on the inside over the last few years. If Goldman decides to pull some shenanigans with another opt-out or even retirement? They are far better prepared for such a loss than they were last year with the presence of him and Tonga.
If Goldman does show up?
All the better. Then the Bears will have outstanding depth for their defensive line. Pennel is capable of not just playing nose tackle but can move outside to defensive end as well. Given the array of strong rushing attacks they’re going to face this season? It was a prudent decision by GM Ryan Pace and the coaches to make this move.