Bears forced to find alternatives with Jeremiah Ratliff suspension


Bears forced to find alternatives with Jeremiah Ratliff suspension

The Bears used their 2015 second-round draft choice on Florida State’s Eddie Goldman with the plan for him to be the nose tackle in their new 3-4 scheme eventually and for a long time. They spent their No. 2 pick in 2014 on a nose tackle, Ego Ferguson, albeit for a 4-3 scheme.

Their roles and that of possibly 2014 third-round selection Will Sutton project to expand – right now – in the wake of the three-game suspension handed down to veteran defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff on Monday for a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

The suspension, which had been expected by both Ratliff and the team, takes the Bears’ acknowledged best defensive line out of games against Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle. Ratliff started at nose tackle the first two preseason games, but as important perhaps, was a fixture in passing situations as the Bears’ top pass-rushing down lineman.

The situation creates a need situation against three of the top teams both on the Bears’ schedule and in the entire NFC. It projects to have a domino effect.

[MORE BEARS: Jeremiah Ratliff suspended three games for violating NFL's drug policy]

“[The suspension] was just a matter of time and just like anyone else, it’ll be next man up,” said Bears head coach John Fox. “We’ll always be looking to improve the roster but for the short term I think we’ll do it from within.”

The “within” starts with Goldman, at 334 pounds, moving into potentially an even more prominent role going into the third preseason game, on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday night, and beyond. Goldman played the second-most snaps among Bears defensive linemen in the win over the Indianapolis Colts and was a factor with push in the middle in addition to recovering a fumble caused on a sack by linebacker Sam Acho.

“I think [Goldman] has had a good camp,” Fox said. “He’s still learning, it’s a new level, like going from JV to varsity, kind of like that going from college ball to pro football. But I like what I’ve seen; he’s stout, he’s learning to transition faster, recognizing the run and pass, the difference. He’s a big body that pushes the pocket. I like where he’s headed.”

The Bears also used Ferguson and Sutton at nose tackle at different points this offseason. Ferguson has been a starter at one of the end-tackle positions but was drafted to be a 4-3 nose tackle last season. Sutton, who recorded a sack against the Colts, is considered a quicker option as a rush lineman.

[MORE BEARS: Jobs still at stake as Bears head to third preseason game]

Ratliff is suspended without pay through Week 3 against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 27. He is eligible to participate in preseason practices and games in the meantime but cannot be in the team’s building starting the week of the Packers game.

“Just move on,” Ratliff said of his reaction to the situation.

A suspension had been expected since the 10-year NFL veteran pleaded guilty in April to a DWI charge arising out of an accident in January 2013.

“There’s a lot of things I could be doing to help myself, help the team. That’s what I’m going to focus on. This was about what, two, three years ago. That’s all behind me. This is the result of it. Just moving forward from here.”

Ratliff said he would not appeal. Given the fate of appeals like the one by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to Commissioner Roger Goodell over the football-inflation matter, appeals currently may not be the best way to go anyway.

“Sometimes it doesn’t help the cause,” Fox said. “It was going to be kind of what it was and we’ll deal with it.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Added Ratliff: “We’ve been down this road with the NFL and they don’t care to hear it. So be it.”

Does he think the suspension is fair?

“Honestly, it doesn’t matter what I think, does it?” Ratliff said. “The results are the results. As I’ve said before, it’s all about getting better at this point and time. Keep working, keep being busy and keep staying focused. It’s not going to change anything for me."

Ratliff had been placed on probation in April after pleading guilty to a DWI charge in Texas stemming from a crash that occurred in January 2013.

Ratliff’s probation is for one year. According to the Dallas Morning News, he was arrested after his pickup truck collided with an 18-wheeler. Ratliff's reported blood alcohol level of .16 was twice the legal limit. He's already attended a DWI education class and performed 20 hours of community service.

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. deserves a lot of credit. After starting his career as a seventh-round pick and something of a longshot to ever earn a starting job, he's become an irreplaceable fixture at the most important position along the offensive line.

The four-year, $38 million contract extension he signed last offseason is evidence of that.

Despite his value to the Bears, Leno is still somewhat underrated across league circles. That may be about to change.

Leno was recently named Chicago's best-kept secret.

Leno has consistently improved as a pass protector since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 and is now one of the team's top 10 players. If he hit the open market, Leno might be a $60 million player with the way the offensive line market is exploding. Over the next four years, the Bears should save about $20 million on the market price for their starting-caliber left tackle.

Leno has enjoyed steady improvement since his rookie season. His grades from Pro Football Focus reflect that: 53.6 (2014), 56.3 (2015), 71.2 (2016) and 80.4 (2017). 

The Bears' offensive line is poised for a big season in 2018. Leno and Bobby Massie are back as starters at tackle. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels will pair with Kyle Long at guard and third-year pro, Cody Whitehair, will get back to focusing on being the team's starting center.

If Leno's trend of improved play continues, he's a great candidate to go from best-kept secret to league star in 2018.

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

The Chicago Bears have a really good problem in their backfield. Both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will demand touches in 2018 and are each starting-quality running backs. Howard is the more traditional first and second-down back while Cohen offers top-tier playmaking ability.

The duo is so talented that they were recently ranked the fourth-best backfield in the NFL.

The Chicago Bears' Jordan Howard has emerged as one of the NFL's top rushers. He finished his rookie season with 1,313 yards, second-most in the NFL. Last season, he rushed for 1,122 yards and 4.1 yards per carry even though Chicago had the league's least threatening passing attack (175.7 yards per game).

Howard isn't the only standout back on the roster, though. Tarik Cohen is a supremely talented runner and receiver and a perfect complement to Howard. Last season, he amassed 370 rushing yards, 53 receptions and 353 receiving yards.

The Bears' backfield was behind only the Rams, Saints and Chiefs.

Howard set Chicago's rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016 and became the first Bears running back to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He should be the Bears' primary back, but coach Matt Nagy expressed genuine excitement over Cohen's skill set which suggests he plans on getting him the ball quite a bit this season.

Regardless of how the touches play out, the Bears will present opposing defenses with one of the most challenging ground games in the NFL.