Bears

Jeremiah Ratliff returns to Bears, but how much can he contribute?

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Jeremiah Ratliff returns to Bears, but how much can he contribute?

For once, the Bears’ near-daily injury story was about who was back at practice rather than who was missing.

The notable addition to the defense on Wednesday was end/tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, back from a three-game suspension that overlapped with an ankle injury suffered in the first quarter of the Bears’ third preseason game, on Aug. 29 at Cincinnati.

[RELATED - Jay Cutler returns to practice in a 'limited' role]

“I’m happy to be back out here with the guys and playing football again, being part of the team, feeling everything and seeing everything,” Ratliff said. “The rehab has been really strong and today was a good start and we’ll try to build off of that.”

Ratliff practiced on a limited basis and his status for Sunday against the Oakland Raiders won’t be certain until much closer to game time. And even then, exactly what Ratliff will be able to contribute materially to the defense as soon as Sunday is likely to be less than it would have had be not been effectively sidelined and out of games and hard practice for more than a month.

“You definitely lose some conditioning for two reasons,” said coordinator Vic Fangio. “One, just the inactivity. And two…he was nursing an ankle injury. He wouldn’t have played these first three games anyway, even if he wasn’t suspended. So, he’s questionable for this game. So you put those two things together, it will be a chore for him to get back into playing shape.

“He probably will not be able to play as many plays as we would normally like him to.”

With Ratliff starting all three preseason games the Bears held the Miami Dolphins to 10 points and Indianapolis Colts to 11, although the No. 1 defense was nicked for early scoring drives by Miami and Cincinnati. Without him – players under suspension may not practice with the team – the Bears allowed 31, 48 and 26 points through three games (minus 14 for kickoff returns for touchdowns by Arizona and Seattle).

[MORE BEARS: Jared Allen trade a rare case of win-win-win]

Ratliff’s impact, however, was felt immediately by a unit that has struggled without one of its leaders, although still ranks No. 11 in yards allowed per game through three weeks.

“It felt so good, getting back to [Ratliff’s] communicating, the calls, and help he gives the young guys as far as what offenses are going to do,” said Eddie Goldman, who started two of the first three games with Ratliff down. “You learn a lot from a guy like that.”

Added defensive end Ego Ferguson: “He’s been in the league a long time and guys rally around him.”

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was drafted with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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USA Today Sports Images

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”