Pinning the hopes of this Bears rookie class on the broad shoulders of tackle Eddie Goldman would be unfair, but if the franchise is going to lay a major foundation with general manager Ryan Pace's first draft class, it starts with the man in the middle of the defense.
It's clear with three weeks to go until the season opener against the Packers that the plan is to start fifth-round draft pick Adrian Amos at free safety alongside 11-year veteran Antrel Rolle. Amos started for the first time Saturday night in the 23-11 victory over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
What's interesting is Amos came out with the starters when a mass substitution was made in the middle of a Colts possession midway through the second quarter. Removing Amos ensures he doesn't get injured, but leaving him in would have given him more valuable reps. It gives us a glimpse of how comfortable coach John Fox is with Amos at this point even if beating out second-year player Brock Vereen is his biggest accomplishment to date.
"We had a pitch count for everybody," Fox said. "We actually think about this stuff. But we kind of were taking him out when the first (group) came out."
If Goldman and Amos can establish themselves as contributors on a defense that looked more aggressive than it did a week ago against the Dolphins, it will be a good start for Pace, who is dealing with the reality that first-round pick Kevin White probably won't play this season.
White soon will undergo surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left leg, and while the Bears have not ruled him out for the season, odds are he won't see the field. Third-round pick Hroniss Grasu is going to need time to develop, and the team has that luxury with center Will Montgomery a bridge player with experience in Adam Gase's offense. Grasu needs to get stronger, especially in his lower body, and improve his technique to play with leverage.
Fourth-round pick Jeremy Langford has been the No. 3 running back behind Matt Forte and Jacquizz Rodgers in everything to this point, but he was impressive Saturday night, ripping off a 46-yard run and scoring on a 2-yard change-of-direction scamper. We know how hard it has been for previous coaching staffs to take Forte off the field, but Langford has a future and a role on special teams. Sixth-round pick Tayo Fabuluje looks like a project at right tackle.
Amos was credited with three tackles in what amounted to a little more than three possessions of work. The Bears like the way he has picked up the scheme and because he had limited action at Penn State playing safety, the team believes there is considerable upside to him. If so, he will turn into quite a find, though he must get over a learning curve.
"It's just a great opportunity," Amos said. "It's a time to get better. You get more comfortable out there. It's about experience. I'm just learning and taking it all in."
Goldman worked into a rotation with the starters and then played into the fourth quarter. He recovered a Matt Hasselbeck fumble forced by Sam Acho's sack. Goldman has to be ready to play a major role behind Jeremiah Ratliff, who hasn't had a 16-game season since 2011.
The nose tackle held up some double teams from center Jonotthan Harrison and left guard Lance Louis. While flashy statistics will be hard to come by, progress should be easy to measure. Defensive tackle is one of the easier positions for a rookie to find success. It puts players in a phone booth, and the calls aren't too complicated. There were only four rookie tackles with 400 snaps in the NFL last season, including the Bears' Will Sutton (458), but that should be a realistic figure for Goldman.
Everyone expects White to be a dynamic player eventually. By the time that happens, hopefully Pace and Fox have a pretty good idea about some young players with futures. The brightest possibilities right now are Amos and Goldman.