The best-case scenario for the Bears with defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, who returned to Chicago in March on a two-year deal after impressing in a five-game audition to end 2013, is that they get the disruptive presence in the middle of their defense that went to four Pro Bowls with the Cowboys.
The worst-case scenario for Ratliff, who at 32 has been slowed by injuries the past two seasons, is that he’s a strong mentor for rookie defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton.
After speaking publicly for the first time this offseason Wednesday at the Bears’ third and final OTA open to the media, Ratliff has every intention of trying to fulfill both scenarios for the Bears in 2014.
“I feel good, I feel stronger – I’m ready to go," Ratliff told Chicago Football. “Along with all the pain, aggravation and even some humiliation, came rest. It allowed me to step back and see the game. After the time off, I’m pretty eager and hungry. It’s been a long road to get back to this point, and I’m just thankful to be a part of it with this organization.”
Ratliff, released in October by the Cowboys and signed by the Bears two weeks later, wasn’t interested in talking about his unceremonious departure from Dallas. He was cut after missing a combined 14 games in 2012 and 2013 and not seeing eye-to-eye with the team over injuries. But now one of the elder statesman of the Bears’ revamped defensive line, he was clearly excited about the opportunity to share some of the wisdom with Ferguson and Sutton that he picked up from some of his former Cowboys teammates.
“I’ll tell you something,” said Ratliff, “that Jason Ferguson, La'roi Glover, Greg Ellis, all those guys, told me when I first came in as a rookie. They told me, ‘It’s your job to turn around and help the next man. And when you leave, you leave this organization in good hands.’ And that is something I have never forgotten.”
Ratliff is in his first full offseason with the Bears and, while he thinks he’s now in better position to lead young players, he admits he’s still learning.
“In order to lead anybody, you have to be able to follow, too,” he said.
The learning process has been easier for Ratliff because of his familiarity with one of his teachers, Paul Pasqualoni, who became the Bears' defensive line coach this offseason after helping oversee Ratliff’s growth in Dallas. Ratliff became an All Pro in 2009 because of his contributions at one-technique, but he is penciled in as the Bears’ starting three-technique alongside Stephen Paea. The ability of Sutton and Ferguson to rotate in should help keep Ratliff fresher, even if he says he feels as good as he has in a long time.
After all, Ratliff isn’t concerned about the rookies eating into his playing time, just as his mentors weren’t during his time in Dallas.
“At the end of the day, those guys didn’t have to help me,” Ratliff said. “We were all competing for a spot. If it weren’t for those guys, who knows where I would be right now? So I just want to pass that information along and try and help as much as possible.”
The Bears saw enough flashes from Ratliff late last season to think he can help their league-worst run defense significantly in 2014. Now they’re seeing a player who is equally excited about helping his rookie teammates. Seems like a true win-win scenario.