The suspension leaves a gaping hole in Chicago’s front seven, as Ratliff is the anchor around which the defensive line rotates. In both base and sub formations, Ratliff was to be the centerpiece, as he’s easily the club’s best interior pass rusher and a quality run stopper.
The defense will feel his absence on passing downs but if the outside linebackers can provide pressure, the loss of Ratliff won’t be as strong a punch to the gut.
In base 3-4 sets, used on run downs and against opposing run formations, the Bears will turn to rookie Eddie Goldman to fill the void at nose tackle.
“He’s a very young player. He’s young even for his class,” head coach John Fox said today. “But I think he’s mature enough in what we’re asking to be flexible with the things he does.”
Goldman was drafted in the second round due to his compelling blend of size (6-4, 320) and explosiveness.
“He’s a big body that’s willing to work,” said Fox. “He’s kind of mature for as young as he is.”
Goldman has big shoes to fill. Ratliff is a four-time Pro Bowler with 100 career starts. Goldman has never played a snap in an NFL regular-season game.
“I'm just focused on you know getting out there and playing with the team,” Goldman said. “I don't look at it any differently. [Ratliff] is still going to be out there helping me no matter what. I'm just focused on playing with those 10 other guys out there.”
Goldman was impressive in training camp, showing good power off the ball. When he keeps his pad level low and maintains leverage, his strength makes him very hard to move.
Yet Goldman has been inconsistent during the first two preseason games and has been beaten at the point of attack too often. Conversely, when his splash plays are impressive and show his potential as the long-term focal point of coordinator Vic Fangio’s run defense.
“The preseason, you can’t rely on the speed in preseason because when the regular season hits it speeds up. Then when playoffs hit it speeds up even more,” said Goldman. “I do my best out there and I try to play my hardest, but I know when the regular season comes it’s going to be even faster. I just try to play fast.”
He doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher but Goldman has the skill set to develop into a highly disruptive run stuffer. The key for him, particularly against double-team blocks, is consistency in technique, an area in which he frequent lapses.
“Stay low as far as your bend and stay firm. You’ve got to be firm on the offensive guard,” Goldman said. “You’ve got to beat him first and the tackle which completes the double team is ineffective if you beat the guard first.”
Goldman was already part of the starting defensive line rotation but will see increased reps with Ratliff out. This gives the young rookie an immediate opportunity to gain valuable game-day reps and further develop his overall game.
“We watch college tape and we evaluated him,” Fox said. “We obviously thought highly enough of him to select him [in the second round]. But it’s altogether a different job description here, what we’re asking from him.”
Not every rookie responds well to being thrown into the fire from the get-go. So even if Goldman struggles, it won’t necessarily reflect his long-term potential. But if he comes out and plays like a brick wall on first and second down, it’ll give Bears fans a glimpse of the future.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.