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.
“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).
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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.”