Chicago Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, signed a few weeks ago as a free agent due to the debilitating attrition along the club's defensive line, has not played football since tearing his groin in Week 6 last season. The veteran spent his first eight seasons as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, earning four Pro Bowl appearances. His presence could be a boost for Chicago's front seven, which has lost all but three starters to injury.
Yet Ratliff didn't practice today and it appears unlikely he'll be able to play this week against the Baltimore Ravens.
"I really couldn't say [when he'll return]," coach Marc Trestman said after practice today. "I'm not trying to hold anything back. I just really can't say. I've left it up to the trainers to let me know when things are getting close, and we're just going continue to work with him. He seems really positive. But to give you a specific time, I don't have that."
Ratliff is 32 and his best years are behind him, yet the Bears feel he still has enough left in the tank to help them defensively this season.
"I know the reputation he's had from talking to coaches who have played against him. He was one of the most difficult players to play against when he was playing at his best in the Eastern Division," said Trestman. "Playing against Andy Reid and Andy Reid [said] he's a very difficult guy to play against, and other coaches I've talked to as well. We'll just have to see. He's here to get himself restarted. I think his attitude is excellent. I know the guys are trying to get him ready to go so we'll see. It's week-to-week and we'll see where we are. Hopefully he'll make a contribution before we go too much further."
Ratliff said he's close to returning but it's up to the Bears' trainers to decide when he'll be back on the field.
"Right now I'm just taking it one day at a time," said Ratliff. "I'm going with the plan that they've given me and I'm looking forward to being in there soon."
Ratliff played mainly nose tackle in Dallas' 3-4 system but will be asked to rush the quarterback as a 3-technique player for the Bears.
"There's a lot of freedom [in the defense]," Ratliff said. "There's a lot of opportunities to get some push in the pocket and put pressure on the quarterbacks, sacks of course. We attack the line of scrimmage and create havoc in the backfield, so I'm looking forward to that. It's a great unit. There are a lot of young guys, a lot of talent, and I'm just looking to add onto that."
Ratliff's experience and success in the league attracted the Bears to him. The club hopes he can provide a productive veteran presence along the interior of the defensive line. But Ratliff wants more.
"That's the plan," he said, "but it's more than a presence. I won't to get out there and produce and I'm not going to say return to form but be better than I ever was, so I'm definitely looking to have the best season of my career with what I have left, and that's my goal."
It's unlikely Ratliff will play this week but don't rule out a return for next week's tilt against the St. Louis Rams. For now though, he'll follow his recovery protocol until his number is called.
"Right now I'm just following their game plan," he said. "Everything has been great. This has been real helpful what they're doing. Everybody has been upbeat and encouraging, so I'm looking for really good results and I believe that will happen."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.