Early in his career Jeremiah Ratliff was one of the best interior defensive linemen in the game. From 2008-2011 he was selected to the Pro Bowl as a one gap nose tackle in Dallas' 3-4 defense. He suffered through a couple of injuries in the 2012 season that ultimately led the Cowboys releasing him the following year. He played five games with the Chicago Bears late last season, although he was never 100% healthy.
All reports peg him as fully healed this off season and the 32 year old is ready for a big year.
The Bears could really use Ratliff's nasty and tenacious play on the interior of their defense. Whether he spends the bulk of his time at the three technique defensive tackle -- where he is slated to start -- or gets some reps at NT, Ratliff has the pedigree to be an impact player in 2014.
He'll need to be a rock at DT for the Bears with numerous question marks surrounding his position group. Nate Collins, who was playing arguably his best football last year, is coming off an injury. Stephen Paea, who has never lived up to his potential and is coming off his own injury plagued season, will be fighting for his second contract. And then there are the two rookie DTs, Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. While both have unique skill sets, expecting either of them to step in and play at a high level is asking too much.
Jeremiah Ratliff has played at a high level and he's done it while playing at a position that wasn't suited to his strengths. Most NFL experts predicted a big year for him in 2013 once the Cowboys announced they were switching to a 4-3 defense. Unfortunately for him and the team, his injuries robbed him of a chance to play in Dallas' Tampa 2 4-3 scheme.
The Bears gave the 10 year veteran a 2 year deal, so they are expecting him to bounce back from his injuries. They also expect him to help mentor the young defensive linemen on the Bears.
"He understands the game," said defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, Ratliff's position coach in Dallas in 2010. "He knows how to practice. He knows how to work. He knows what the meeting room is like. He knows the tempo of practice and our tempo is pretty tough. So [Ratliff] has been through all that. He'll be a leader in that regard, and he'll be of great help to the younger guys."
What are your expectations for Ratliff in 2014, and which DT do you expect to have the biggest impact?