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Jeremiah Ratliff can’t avoid spotlight against Cowboys

Jay Ratliff

Jay Ratliff

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Updated: January 8, 2014 6:13AM

After 12 months of tumult — a severe groin injury, surgery, a bum hamstring, a contentious rehab and a sudden and curious departure from the Dallas Cowboys — Jeremiah Ratliff has no interest in sideshows. Especially this week.

The former Pro Bowl defensive tackle is too wrapped up in reviving a once-thriving NFL career to deal with anything but football these days. He should be playing for the Cowboys on Monday night. Instead, he’ll play for the Bears. But he insists that playing against his former team is ‘‘just another game.’’ Hard to believe. But he said so Monday and reiterated it Thursday. Who’s going to tell him he’s lying?

‘‘Everybody’s still trying to make a big deal about that,’’ he said.‘‘To me, it’s just another game. As [the Cowboys] said, ‘We’re moving on.’ So have I. And that’s the end of it.’’

Make no mistake that the 6-4, 303-pound Ratliff, who was drafted by the Cowboys’ Bill Parcells in the seventh round out of Auburn in 2005, is glad to be in Chicago.

‘‘First-class organization,’’ he said with a laugh, knowing how that comment might reflect on the Cowboys. ‘‘Just to put it bluntly. And it’s not a shot — if they take it like that, so be it. Here it’s all about football. You can really just focus on your craft, focus on what you do. And no matter what’s going on, you never forget what you’re here for. That’s a good thing.’’

But even in the football-centric confines of Halas Hall, the soft-spoken Ratliff won’t be able to avoid the spotlight. On a team ranked 32nd in the NFL in run defense, a four-time Pro Bowl run-stopping defensive tackle isn’t going to ease his way into the lineup without fanfare.

Ratliff played 23 snaps against the Vikings last week in his first game since Nov. 18, 2012, with the Cowboys. For what it’s worth, he had one tackle and was credited with one quarterback hurry. Adrian Peterson rushed nine times for 48 yards when Ratliff was in the game and 26 times for 163 yards when he wasn’t. The Vikings averaged 8.0 yards per play when he was on the field and 7.1 when he wasn’t.

All it means is that Ratliff has a long way to go, but he’ll get every opportunity to get there. He’ll get more snaps Monday.

‘‘We’re just taking it one step at a time,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘The plays that he was in the game for, he did a nice job for us. We’ll take it to Monday and see what happens.’’

Bears guard James Brown doesn’t know what Ratliff once had, but he’s seen enough to know he still has something left.

‘‘They say he’s coming off whatever injury he had, but he’s moving around pretty good,’’ said Brown, who faces Ratliff in practice. ‘‘It feels like he hasn’t missed a step.

‘‘One thing about him is he has low pads. He comes off the ball hard. With some people, you kind of read their moves. You can’t read him all the time. You have to go out and get him. You’ve got to take the fight to him.’’

Ratliff, a pass-catching tight end in high school who high-jumped 6-8 and ran high hurdles in track, said he ‘‘absolutely’’ believes he can be the player he was in his prime and embraces the doubt that he ever will be.

‘‘Since I’ve been in the league, there’s been a lot of questions — ‘He’s too small. He’s a seventh-rounder. He won’t make the team,’ ’’ Ratliff said. ‘‘The odds are always stacked against you. That’s good. It’s motivation for me. And I look forward to it.’’


Twitter: @MarkPotash

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