Focus for most Chicago Bears fans going into training camp is on the stars. If for no other reason than the team actually has them now. Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller, Allen Robinson, and Tarik Cohen have all gotten loads of attention. Then there are the breakout candidates like Mitch Trubisky, Anthony Miller, and Roquan Smith. However, it’s fair to say not enough people are talking about another name who belongs with the latter. His name is Bilal Nichols.
Amidst the euphoria of last season where the team finished 12-4 and won the division, it’s easy to forget how exciting the progress of the young defensive end was. Here’s a 5th round pick out of FCS Delaware. A lot of people had never heard of him before. Most assumed he’d be nothing more than a rotational backup. Then by the end of the regular season, he’s become the starter opposite Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks on the best defense in football.
Quite the rise for an unheralded rookie. His final tally was an impressive one: 3 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, 5 tackles for a loss, and 2 forced fumbles. What stood out was his surprising mix of strength and quickness for a man at 6’4 and almost 300 lbs. That is what makes this statement to Arthur Arkush of Pro Football Weekly so scary for anybody who may have to block him in 2019.
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“So, I dropped my body fat a lot — probably about 5-6 percent,” said Nichols, who estimated he’s down from 19-plus percent to 16, technically closer to a four-percent drop. “Changed my body. Incorporated a very healthy diet. I’ve been in the weight room with Akiem [Hicks], Nick Williams, so that’s helping me get stronger. I’m pretty much the same weight but a lot stronger, a lot more explosive.”
Bilal Nichols manhandled O-linemen BEFORE he was in shape
Think about that. Nichols already came into the NFL with a pretty good work ethic, but most college players don’t have the regimen that those at the pro level do. It takes about a year for them to reshape their body to the speed and intensity of the game. Yet even without that Nichols managed to win his fair share of battles against veteran offensive linemen. So for him to say he’s replaced a lot of his body fat with muscle?
It’s hard not to get a little excited about what sort of havoc he may wreak. Odds are he is the favorite to claim the starting job, so he’ll be playing more snaps this season. There’s also the fact he has a more aggressive coordinator in Chuck Pagano running the show. This means he may get more opportunities to get up the field after the quarterback. Combine that with guys like Hicks and Mack eating up blockers elsewhere, he’ll be one of those who reap the rewards of near-constant single blocks.
Don’t be surprised if Nichols ends up having a Pro Bowl-caliber season of his own.