You really can’t stop time.
But Jeremiah Ratliff, however unhappily, may have it slow down ever so slightly for him, which looms as a significant positive for a retooled Bears defensive line.
When he signed with Chicago late last season and finally played on Dec. 1 in Minnesota, Ratliff had not been on an NFL field in more than a full year. Ratliff played in six Cowboys games in 2012 but went on IR in November.
What that can mean to a veteran, although certainly not by choice, is enforced time off, which also means healing time at a career point when even elite veterans evince signs of wear. Ratliff had missed just two games total in the six years prior to the injury problems of 2012, but now has played just 11 games since 2011.
Indeed, the injury time off may have added time to Ratliff’s career and life to his legs.
“It could,” he said this week at OTA’s. “You know the saying – and it’s not really a ‘saying’ because it’s definitely true – that God works in mysterious ways. That happened, I’m not questioning God on that, I just thank God that I’m back playing and can just participate in OTA’s, offseason workouts and getting a closer relationship with all my teammates.”
Ratliff is not the only thankful one.
Defensive end Jared Allen brought up Ratliff with effusive praise after Allen signed with the Bears, the two having met at Pro Bowls (they have nine between them). Allen specifically mentioned “reps” as the key to their making strides together and both have taken every snap at their positions with the No. 1 defense through OTAs.
“I’ll need to know what ‘Jay’s’ countermove is right so when I’m rushing up the field and I see him up that he’s going to counter and he also needs to understand like, ‘Hey, I need you to make a decision by two or three steps here.’ That’s how you start falling off with things naturally with each other.”
Ratliff is in unfamiliar territory, literally. Which is not easy to say about a four-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman at an age (32) where there is little in the NFL that they haven’t seen somewhere sometime.
But Ratliff, installed as the starting three-technique after re-signing with the Bears on a two-year deal last March, has never been with any other team this time of year than the Dallas Cowboys. A year ago, he wasn’t even in a helmet or offseason program, rehabbing a severe groin injury and heading for the Dallas PUP list and his eventual release.
Now, in a new helmet for Spring, “this feels great,” Ratliff said. “It feels like it’s been a long time and I was definitely eager to be here for the offseason and try to participate in everything. It’s really good to come out here and be on the same page with everyone. That time off makes you really appreciate the dog days.”