When the Bears signed Jeremiah Ratliff early last month to what was effectively a half-year contract, the hope was that he would get healthy enough to fit into the rotation at defensive tackle. Expectations were modest for a 32-year-old defensive tackle who’d been to four straight Pro Bowls from 2008-11 but hadn’t been on an NFL field for more than a year due to injuries and a very painful surgery and rehab.
Any reservations were misplaced. The Bears didn’t just get a starting defensive tackle; they got two.
Ratliff started at three-technique against the Dallas Cowboys, a Top 10 team in rushing average, along with Corey Wootton at end and Stephen Paea at nose tackle, Against the Cleveland Browns, Top 10 in passing average, Ratliff started at nose tackle, Wootton at the three-technique and Shea McClellin at end in the Bears’ best pass-rushing front four.
Ratliff has gone from a limited-snaps backup three weeks ago to joining Wootton and Julius Peppers as the three fixtures on the Bears’ defensive linemen. He has been listed as a starting defensive tackle on the depth chart but coach Marc Trestman confirmed that Ratliff has become a mainstay of the defensive line, not just a situational player.
Ratliff played 44 snaps in both the Dallas and Cleveland games – the same number as Peppers.
“To me, it really doesn’t matter if it’s the nose, the ‘three’ or anything like that,” Ratliff said, then laughed. “I thank God that I’m playing, that I’m on a ‘team.’ Nose, ‘three,’ safety – well, if it’s safety, I’ll raise an eyebrow but I’ll play it.
“Find ball, hit ball. That’s it. That’s it.”
Much was made of Ratliff’s debut against his former Dallas teammates. His playing time will be exponentially more significant next Sunday, however. No member of the Bears’ defense has played even half as many games as Ratliff against the Philadelphia Eagles nor achieved close to his results: 14 games (12 starts), 6.5 sacks, 31 tackles, one forced and two recovered fumbles.
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“The thing that’s so amazing about him is how he uses his hands,” Wootton said, his hands a blur as he tried to simulate a Ratliff technique. “And he doesn’t just hold the point. Even when he’s at nose, he’s attacking, getting into people.”
What Trestman has observed: Ratliff “is a force inside in terms of his size and his strength. He’s got good leadership qualities, good communication skills. He’s good for our locker room. He’s just getting back into it.
“He’s had two pretty good weeks. He played very little the first week, a little more last week and then a lot this week. His conditioning is much better. Hopefully, he’ll continue to ascend over the next couple of weeks. Phil [Emery, GM] having brought him in has done only good things for our locker room and our performance on the field.”