The Chicago Bears will be without perhaps the most important member of their new look 3-4 defense to start the regular season.
On Monday morning, it was announced that 33-year-old defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff will be suspended without pay for the first three games of the regular season for violating the league’s Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.
The three-game ban comes directly from a 2013 incident in which Ratliff pled guilty to DWI in Tarrant County, Texas. He was arrested in Jan. 2013 after crashing his pickup truck with a blood alcohol content of .16, which is twice the legal limit.
Now, the Bears will be missing their top defensive lineman for perhaps the toughest part of their regular season slate. That includes three of the NFC’s best teams in Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle in that order. Running back wise the Bears will have to contain Eddie Lacy in Week One against the Packers, a speedy mixture of Andre Ellington, Chris Johnson and David Johnson in Week Two against the Cardinals and the powerful Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks in Week Three.
To say the Bears need Ratliff badly in those games is an understatement. The 12th-year Auburn product has eight sacks in 16 games with 15 starts over the last two season. Ratliff is set to make $1.5 million in the final year of the two-year contract he signed midway through the 2013 season.
Ratliff will still be able to practice with the team through the preseason, but then will have to sit out the week leading up to the season opener against Green Bay. He is allowed to return to practice on Sept. 28 and is eligible to play in the Week Four matchup against Oakland on Oct. 4.
“It’s tough to sit out any game for any reason,” Ratliff told the Tribune. “Of course, a situation like this doesn’t make it any easier. I’m going to do what I have to do and I’ll come back Week 4 and be ready to play.”
He will be docked $344,117.64 for the three-game suspension which includes $264,705.88 in salary, according to the Tribune.
For now second-round pick Eddie Goldman will likely be the next man up at nose tackle with Jarvis Jenkins, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton and Brandon Dunn all taking on bigger roles. The Bears also have third-year Georgia product Cornelius Washington, who figures to get a chance to earn key snaps.
“There are a lot of things I could be doing to help myself, help the team,” Ratliff told the Tribune. “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.”
Back in May, Goldman expressed how excited he was to be Ratliff’s teammate. He had idolized him basically his entire life. Now, Goldman, who has three tackles and a fumble recovery in two preseason outings will have to mature quick.
“I think he’s had a good camp,” head coach John Fox said about Goldman on Monday via the Tribune. “I think he’s still learning. He’s stout. He’s learning to transition faster–recognizing the run and the pass, the difference. He’s a big body that pushes the pocket.”
Ratliff’s suspension didn’t come as a surprise to Fox or Ratliff himself as he told the media on Monday that he doesn’t plan on appealing the suspension.
“It’s something we’ve known about for a while,” Fox said. “It happened a couple years ago. It’s not a new incident. It’s not breaking news. So it was just a matter of time and just like anybody else, it’ll be next man, next men up.”
It won’t be an easy task, but for now the Bears will look to a group largely made up of youngsters. The most experienced player on the line is fifth-year defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins. Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton and Brandon Dunn are second-year guys, while Goldman is a rookie and Washington is a third-year man vying for time as a situational pass rusher for now.
The Bears also have two undrafted rookies in Terry Williams and Olsen Pierre and veteran journeyman David Carter as depth at defensive line. Williams is an intriguing nose tackle from East Carolina, who may earn roster spot behind Goldman with Ratliff now out the first three weeks.
Regardless of who wins the starting jobs or who plays the key snaps on the defensive line, the first three games of the season just got a whole lot tougher for the Bears without Ratliff.
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