Khyiris Tonga is becoming a saviour.
When Eddie Goldman joined the Bears defense in 2015, after being drafted 39th overall, it just felt like the Bears had made the smart choice. Goldman came in as a rookie and tore it up, ending the season with 39 tackles, 6 tackles for an offensive loss of yards and 4.5 sacks, being named in multiple rookie teams of the year.
Though an ankle injury ended the 2016 season, he came back in 2017 to continue the great play that the 2nd round draft pick showed us in his rookie season and solidify the Nose Tackle position as his own, with 44 combined tackles, 5 QB hits, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.
Great work by the Bears front office then, when they signed Eddie up to a 4 year contract extension in 2018. It was a large deal, but one granted to a player who continued to show up and provide the right type of pressure for a Bears defense; being a key cog in the identity of the strong, hard-to-beat defense from the 12-4 season and beyond.
Things have started to unravel last season however, as Goldman opted out of the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Whatever the reasons, you cannot criticise a man wanting to keep himself and his family safe by not playing during a very testing time that the whole world dealt with.
However, that decision resulted in a full season with no practice at the Bears facilities at all. No matter what you do at home to stay fit, it is never and will never be the same as real practice reps; which in turn is not a true indication of match fitness. Eddie could have the in game knowledge and experience, but there’s a lot of rust that would need shaking.
KHYIRIS TONGA TO THE RESCUE
So when Eddie wasn’t back for full practice during the off-season, a lot of heads were raised and question marks started to appear. Will he come back? Will he be good enough? What’s going on?
Eddie did return, but the lack of practice has caught up with him, with the rust clearing showing in the games participated. A worry we as Bears fans don’t want to think about; what if Eddie doesn’t come back like he once was? What are we going to do?
Well it seems our questions have already been answered – Khyiris Tonga.
Ooooo-wee, who thought that a 7th round draft pick would make a 53 man roster, let alone get starts in their rookie season in the NFL? Or in another way, what right does a 7th round draft pick have to walk into the Bears defense and take over the NT position? Khyiris Tonga has answered all of those questions.
Every right. And who is going to tell him? The former BYU college football graduate, drafted 250th overall in the 2021 draft, stands at 6ft 2in, 326lb (148kg). The man is large and that plays a large part in him being so successful, as he can just swallow up space on that defensive line.
In the same way that Goldman came into the team, slotting in without an issue and excelling, Tonga has done similar – the key being that he was a 7th round pick. When Goldman comes in from the 2nd round, there is a set expectation that he would progress. But for Tonga to have a similar effect is both mind-boggling and excellent.
Tonga so far has 6 career tackles, 3 solo and 3 assisted. That puts him on track to get roughly 30 tackles – only 9 tackles fewer than the 2nd round pick Goldman in a rookie season comparison.
No doubt extra footwork, training reps and game experience will aid the growth of Tonga and will even elevate the amount of tackles and defensive contributions to an already strong defense. And would it be worth keeping Goldman, as the delay in playing will only add to the rustiness of a man with not a lot of recent game time.
It makes you wonder, with cap issues going to play a big part in 2022’s season, if selling Gold whilst the price is high is the right thing to do when the Tonga line is starting to look like a lot of fun to join.