Bears cutting DL Jeremiah Ratliff just the latest part of culture change


Bears cutting DL Jeremiah Ratliff just the latest part of culture change

The unseemly circumstances this weekend involving Jeremiah Ratliff, in which police and security were called to Halas Hall after the veteran defensive lineman was involved in a protracted, escalating confrontation with team officials that included GM Ryan Pace, left the Bears with a difficult situation inside one of the pivotal position areas of any NFL team. The events also represented another clear indicator of the culture change within a previously troubled team that has been about establishing that new culture virtually since the end of the catastrophic 2014 season.

The details of the Ratliff incident, which will simply be described here as “ugly,” are less the point than the outcome.

From a purely football standpoint, the move to jettison Ratliff, coming less than a week after the team lost defensive lineman Ego Ferguson for the season with a knee injury, meant that the Bears over the past handful of months have lost three of their projected top four or five defensive linemen for 2015 (Ratliff, Ferguson, Ray McDonald). Ferguson’s case obviously is nothing like the other two, but the organization was clearly no longer willing to compromise rules and standards as it had not all that long ago.

[MORE: Bears cut ties with Jeremiah Ratliff, sign DL Ziggy Hood]

Ratliff had been involved in an incident at practice in the days before the Bears’ final game last season, in which sources said he came to work in no condition to work and was sent off the field. Yet he was one of the co-captains that Sunday as appointed by Marc Trestman. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall ignored the uniform order of the day, got into an acrimonious confrontation with assistant coach (and former Bear player) Chris Harris and was never disciplined.

The point was not how bad things had become (5-11 made that point more than eloquently). The point is what they have become, which began when Pace was hired away from New Orleans and made a trip to Denver for the second interview of John Fox.

The Bears traded away Marshall without any assurance that Kevin White or Amari Cooper would be available at No. 7 in the draft. They did not excuse Ratliff’s outburst in order to keep a defensive need area filled. Ratliff’s explosion reached the level of Fox, and he was having none of it. Players told that Marshall actually not one of a small handful of bad guys in the locker room last year, wouldn’t identify exactly who the bad eggs were, except to say that they are now former Bears.

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Changing the chemistry and culture starts at the top and that includes exorcising demons that threaten the greater good, regardless of some perceived football value. Ratliff was respected to the point of even rookie center Hroniss Grasu seeking out the veteran d-lineman for advice on his craft. Ratliff was rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman’s football role model.

Actually, Marshall and Ratliff really do represent templates for being a Chicago Bear. Just not the kind of model they may have thought.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”