The second phase of the fallout from the Jeremiah Ratliff incident is coming, not necessarily in form of the investigation by the NFL into circumstances surrounding the incident and Ratliff’s behavior, although that is yet to play out.
Before all of that, the Bears face the prospect of dealing with an NFC North division rival — the Minnesota Vikings — and one the great runners in NFL history — Adrian Peterson — with not only a depleted defensive line, but also a battered offensive line. That latter looms as significant if only because the best defense against Peterson always has been to keep him and any Minnesota offense off the field.
All of which becomes exponentially more difficult if the Bears are unable to dominate or at least achieve stalemates on both lines of scrimmage. Center Hroniss Grasu was limited all week in practice with a neck injury and three other of the Bears’ top eight offensive linemen were on the final injury report. Grasu and left tackle Jermon Bushrod ended the week as questionable and are considered longshots to be active against the Vikings.
“I’m not really worried about our guys,” said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. “They’re going to do what we ask them to do and do it to the best of their ability. We just have to make sure we get a hat on a hat.”
The same applies on defense, where the absence of Ratliff becomes a two-fold issue. One is the loss of a serviceable defensve lineman. Ratliff had to be helped off the field late in a Week 6 loss to the Detroit Lions, which was mentioned as a neck injury but he was a highly regarded teammate and the starting nose tackle the past two games after his return from a suspension and an ankle injury.
The other issue is simply that the defensive line has been thrown back into a de facto state similar to what it was early last offseason with the Bears looking at players in different roles in a changing defense.
Defensive tackle Will Sutton, the Bears’ third-round pick in the 2014 draft, has more games (19) in a Bears uniform than all the other current defensive linemen combined. Because of personnel packages, rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman has started three of the Bears’ six games. But he now becomes an even more pivotal figure with Ratliff gone and the Bears in desperate need of being able to be stout in the interior so that linebackers and safeties are able to attend to their assignments involving Peterson as well as account for the running ability of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
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“[Goldman has] been performing better the past few weeks,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “I don’t know if there is a hidden benefit [to Ratliff and tackle Ego Ferguson leaving, Ferguson to IR] for him. He’s been playing a lot. It’s not like he’s going to get more playing time because of that. He’s been doing well here the last few weeks so we’ve been pleased with his progress.”
Goldman’s football role model was none other than Ratliff. The next measure of the rookie’s progress comes Sunday when the Bears are in dire need of him to become what Ratliff once was.