Eddie Goldman

The 6-4, 332-pound African-American nose tackle sat at his locker, answering a seemingly bizarre -- though not uncommon -- question about whether he was Jewish.

"People hear the name 'Goldman,' and they assume," Eddie Goldman said. "Sometimes I laugh, and sometimes I just say, 'no.'"

The Bears rookie, who grew up in Washington, D.C, said that last name dates back to at least his paternal grandfather and he does not believe any relatives were ever adopted by a Jewish family.

What is certain is that the nose tackle anchors the Bears' 3-4 defense in Chicago's first year of that scheme as the team transitions from the Cover-2, 4-3 design implemented by Lovie Smith in 2004.

Eddie Goldman

The Bears saw Goldman as their nose guard of the future when they drafted him from Florida State in the second round (39th overall). That role was hastened when Jay Ratliff was suspended three games by the NFL for a 2013 DUI incident and then was released the day after an outrageous Oct. 21 locker room disturbance.

The 34-year-old Ratliff allegedly said he "felt like killing everybody in the building" and that he was "the devil." Security concerns became so serious that the Bears had to request assistance from the police department. Despite Ratliff's frightening exit, his loss was a hit to the Bears' D-line.

"He was a mentor," Goldman said. "That comes naturally when you're a vet and you know what you're doing."

With Ratliff first under suspension and now off the team, the Bears have turned to the 21-year-old Goldman, who has started four of the seven games this season, on a unit that entered Week 8 as the 10th ranked defense despite having several areas of need.

Last year the Bears defense ranked 30th in the league and became the first team to give up 50 or more points in back-to-back weeks since the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons. In successive seasons they've lost stalwarts on their defense. This year they said goodbye to cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs. The season before they lost defensive end Julius Peppers, and 2012 was linebacker Brian Urlacher's last season.

As the 2-5 Bears rebuild, Goldman is one of the promising cornerstones on the team's defense, which includes potential at each level: 23-year-old cornerback Kyle Fuller (four interceptions last year), 26-year-old outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (five sacks this year) and 27-year-old defensive end Jarvis Jenkins (3.5 sacks this year.)

Eddie Goldman

Bears staffers won't say it officially, but they envision the team as two years away from being major contenders. At that point they should be flush with cap space, would have only $2 million in dead money if they release Jay Cutler and should have replenished the team with draft picks. (Draft experts already have lauded general manager Ryan Pace's first draft in 2015 as Chicago's best in years.)

Goldman is at the forefront of that draft haul.

The Bears like how the stout lineman collapses the pocket, quickly locates the ball and discards blockers. His fourth-quarter sack with 1:26 left against the Raiders helped seal Chicago's first victory of the year.

"Eddie's done great," said Lamarr Houston, a defensive lineman converted to linebacker in the new scheme. "He's progressing steadily."

Goldman's statistics (10 tackles, 1.5 sacks) seem pedestrian until you consider his role is the integral but unsexy one of occupying blockers.

It's a role Goldman also filled at Florida State where he played alongside future NFL players Mario Edwards Jr. and Tim Jernigan. Goldman started all there years for the Seminoles, including as a true freshman, and recorded 12 tackles for loss.

"He's a big, physical guy," said Bears linebacker Christian Jones who also played at Florida State with Goldman.

Eddie Goldman

After playing nose tackle in a 3-4 D at FSU, Goldman came into the NFL labeled as a noted run stuffer.

To go along with prowess versus the run, he's now working on improving his pass rush ability and adding to his repertoire. His best move is the "club," where he swats blockers with his arm by going across a lineman's shoulder. It's a technique that impressed his teammates at the outset of training camp.

"He wows us every time," said defensive end Will Sutton, who lines up next to Goldman. "It's pretty powerful."

Goldman said he still must work on recognizing plays and formations and becoming comfortable with the everyday routine of being an NFL player.

"Physically, he's doing great, dominating blocks," Houston said. "He just has to understand the flow of the NFL game and how teams are going to attack him."

The Bears like Goldman's potential, especially considering the rookie doesn't turn 22 until after the season.

"The sky's the limit," Jones said. "If he keeps working, he's going to be a heck of a player."

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-- Follow Jeff Fedotin on Twitter @JFedotin.