Bears training camp primer: Defensive line

Eddie Goldman once emulated Jeremiah Ratliff. Now they're teammates. Bears DL preview.

With a new defensive scheme, the Bears must quickly find a way to solidify things up front. At training camp in Bourbonnais, new coordinator Vic Fangio will continue to mix and match his pieces for the best solution on the defensive line.

Currently on roster: 9.

Projected final roster: 6-7.

Roster locks: Jeremiah Ratliff, Eddie Goldman.

Good bets: Jarvis Jenkins, Ego Ferguson.

On the bubble: Will Sutton, Cornelius Washington, Brandon Dunn.

Practice squad candidates: Olsen Pierre.

Camp depth: Terry Williams.

Biggest offseason developments: Defensive tackle Stephen Paea departed in free agency, signing a four-year, $21 million deal with the Redskins. The Bears signed troubled defensive end Ray McDonald to a one-year deal in March, then quickly released him 62 days later after he was arrested in California on misdemeanor charges of domestic violence and child endangerment. The Bears used their second-round draft pick, the 39th selection overall, on tackle Eddie Goldman.

What to like: From the earliest stages of their roster evaluation, the new coaching staff identified Jeremiah Ratliff as a building block up front, an experienced and proven playmaker who has the versatility to play either nose tackle or end in Fangio's 3-4 system.

When healthy last season, Ratliff was again a force on the interior, best exemplified by the 31/2-sack first half he delivered in an October loss to the Dolphins. Even with his 34th birthday nearing, Ratliff's motor is still obvious.

"I don't see him slowing down," Fangio noted.

On top of that, Ratliff has taken a liking to the new system.

"The best thing to me is it's all about being aggressive and making this our defense," Ratliff said. "Playing this scheme is enjoyable to me. As a player, you always want to be able to put your stamp on things and make it your own within the structure of the defense. And this system definitely allows for that."

In other words, Fangio will showcase Ratliff's versatility and give him the freedom to use his power and instincts.

When at nose tackle, Ratliff understands the importance of holding the point. He also will have to improve his durability. He missed three games last fall with a concussion and two others with a knee issue. He has been sidelined for 26 games over the last three seasons.

But his presence adds an obvious edge to the defense. And as luck would have it, Ratliff's energy and experience should rub off quickly on Goldman, who grew up modeling his game after his new teammate.

"I just liked how physical he was, and his quickness and his grit," the rookie defensive tackle said in April.

Goldman wore No. 90 in college at Florida State in honor of Ratliff, but for obvious reasons, has had to make a switch to a new jersey — 76. Now he will have a golden opportunity to develop under Ratliff's tutelage.

"He came in with great feet for a big man, great speed," Ratliff said. "And his hands? You don't have to say anything to him about that. He knows what he's doing there."

Preseason questions: Do the Bears have enough quality depth up front?

One offseason is hardly enough time to refortify the defensive line, particularly with a scheme change underway. So in many ways, the Bears are scrambling to make the best of a tough situation.

Jarvis Jenkins will begin camp as a likely starter at end, a run-stuffing presence who has previous experience in a 3-4 defense with the Redskins.

Ego Ferguson also should be able to carve out a significant role as a defensive end. But fellow 2014 draft pick Will Sutton may find himself without a true fit in the new system.

Sutton will have to fight for a spot on the 53-man roster with Brandon Dunn and Cornelius Washington making similar efforts.

dwiederer@tribpub.com

Twitter @danwiederer

 

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