The Chicago Bears have high hopes for so many of their young players this year. Among the most discussed are wide receiver Javon Wims and of course linebacker Roquan Smith. They are joined by compelling rookies like David Montgomery and Duke Shelley. Not nearly enough people have talked about one of the most disruptive forces in training camp this year. That being defensive end Bilal Nichols.

Coming into 2019, the general belief was the former 5th round pick out of Delaware would compete with Roy Robertson-Harris for the starting defensive end job. The way things have gone, that is no longer a question. Nichols appears firmly entrenched as the guy. This is reinforced by his array of notable plays in practice that range from constant stuffs of the run to his growing ability as a pass rusher.

He had three sacks as a rookie and it appears has continued to finetune both his technique and his body to do even greater things this year. That was showcased by one of the best plays of camp when Nichols, at 290 lbs, made a diving interception at Halas Hall on Tuesday. This in addition to deflection of another pass at the line of scrimmage. Larry Mayer of got his take on it.

Second-year defensive tackle Bilal Nichols proved that in Tuesday’s practice at Halas Hall, diving to intercept a pass that was broken up by cornerback Prince Amukamara.

“I just came off the ball, trying to work my technique and get to the quarterback,” Nichols said. “One of our defensive philosophies in general is ‘run to the ball, run to the ball.’ You never know; you could always make a play, whether it’s an interception or a fumble.

“So I just ran to the ball. Seeing it get tipped, I [thought], ‘I might be able to get this and just try to dive for it,’ and I got it.”

Chicago Bears could get huge returns from Nichols in 2019

Nichols is fast developing a reputation for exceeding expectations. Not a single person saw him doing what he did in 2018. He was not only a rookie but a 5th round pick. Out of Delaware, no less. Not exactly a hotbed of premier NFL talent. With respect to Matt Nagy, of course. Now he’s consistently making life difficult for the Bears starting offensive line. A group that is considered one of the best units in the league.

Everybody who understands football knows the biggest jump for a player usually comes from his first year to his second. Based on that trend and what Nichols is doing in camp, it’s reasonable to think he has a big year coming. Bigger than some people may realize. In addition to his own personal improvements, there is also the presence of new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

The man is known for his aggressive style. He likes to attack the quarterback, getting his defensive linemen and outside linebackers up the field in order to attack the pocket. Given how quick Nichols is, this will play to his greatest strengths. In other words, his opportunities for sacks should spike significantly. If the Bears defense continues to have success, this could problem him to the Pro Bowl.

That would be a hell of a story.