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DT Jeremiah Ratliff excited to be talking the line

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (90) sprays water his face during an NFL football practice Lake Forest Ill. Tuesday

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (90) sprays water on his face during an NFL football practice in Lake Forest, Ill., Tuesday, May 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) ORG XMIT: OTKNH167

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The dog days of summer are good days for defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff. The extra work and sweat feel almost rejuvenating for the 10-year veteran.

“It feels great,” Ratliff said. “It feels like it’s been a long time.”

So goes the world of Ratliff, whom the Bears brought back on a two-year deal. It seems like a long time ago (at least in NFL years) that Ratliff was a great player, an All-Pro who single-handedly ate up offensive lines.

Durability questions accompany Ratliff, who turns 33 on Aug. 29. He made just 10 starts over the last two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and Bears.

“I was definitely eager to be here during this offseason and just try to participate in everything,” Ratliff said. “I just thank God that I’m back and I’m playing and I can just participate in [organized team activities] and offseason workouts and get stronger and better and get a closer relationship and understanding with all my teammates.”

Ratliff was released by the Cowboys in October after his recovery from sports-hernia surgery in late 2012 turned into a lengthy and controversial one. (The Cowboys filed a grievance in March over the
$40 million extension he signed in 2011.) Ratliff went more than a year without playing in a game.

“This is the best that I’ve felt in a long time,” said Ratliff, who joined the Bears on Nov. 2 but still required weeks of training before making his debut Dec. 1 at Minnesota.

“My running, moving full speed, my flexibility and everything is good. My strength is definitely on par and returning. I’m just looking for big things for myself and definitely our line and the team, as well.”

On paper, the starting line of Ratliff, nose tackle Stephen Paea and ends Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston is a formidable one.

“We’ve got a lot of veterans on the defensive line, and along with that comes high expectations,” Ratliff said. “We’re going to be up to the challenge. For the most part, we’re all on the same page. We’re learning each other’s play styles.

“Everybody understands formations and protections. We’re really going to be able to really get after the passer and do a lot of things that other defensive lines can’t do. I don’t mean that as big talk, but it really just shows the expectations that we have for ourselves as a unit.”

Success could hinge on Ratliff, who had 19 sacks over four consecutive Pro Bowl seasons from 2008 to ’11. With a new scheme being implemented, Ratliff, a former nose in the Cowboys’ 3-4 defense, won’t just be the Bears’ three-technique tackle. He hinted at having to handle multiple gaps.

“We like the plan,” he said.

Ratliff also will be required to help rookies Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. Ferguson admires Ratliff, saying he’s “one of the best noses to ever do it.”

“He understands the game,” said defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, Ratliff’s position coach in Dallas in 2010. “He knows how to practice. He knows how to work. He knows what the meeting room is like. He knows the tempo of practice and our tempo is pretty tough. So [Ratliff] has been through all that. He’ll be a leader in that regard, and he’ll be of great help to the younger guys.”

All of it starts with being on the field during OTAs.

“I feel stronger this year and more comfortable with my team,” Ratliff said. “I’m just trying and looking to have my best year.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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