Rodgers and Pagano could lean more heavily on Nichols, who is entering a pivotal third season. John Jenkins is on the roster as a reserve nose tackle, and this development boosts his chances of making the roster and potentially playing in a rotation. The domino effect on the line could also involve Akiem Hicks and Roy Robertson-Harris.
Nichols dealt with a broken right hand suffered in a preseason game against the Denver Broncos last year, and that hampered him in the first half of the season. Now he could be thrust into a more prominent role.
"When you're playing a position that utilizes your hands as much as we do, it takes some time," Rodgers said. "I broke my hand in May, almost in the same spot he broke his hand. He's playing football and going against 300-pound linemen. I'm picking up my 50-pound kids. That's a big difference right there.
"Bilal is working extremely hard, and some of the production he had as a rookie was very good. And some of the things he did in his second year were better, and then some things he can be better at. I have a lot of confidence in Bilal because he has a sparkle in his eye. He wants to be great, and he has lofty goals for himself. And I'm looking forward to seeing what he looks like when he comes back into training camp and gets going."
A handful of defensive linemen around the league have reportedly opted out, including Minnesota's Michael Pierce, Washington's Caleb Brantley, Houston's Eddie Vanderdoes, Denver's Kyle Peko and Buffalo's Star Lotulelei. It remains to be seen if the Bears will be in the market for another body in the middle of the defense. Damon Harrison and Demato Peko are experienced nose tackles who are currently unsigned.
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