Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
Starter: Jeremiah Ratliff
Backups: Will Sutton and Nate Collins
After suffering a groin injury six games into the 2012 season with the Dallas Cowboys, Jeremiah Ratliff finished that season on injured reserve. In training camp last season, he was placed on the team's physically unable to perform (PUP) list due to a hamstring injury and was subsequently released on Oct. 16.
The Bears signed the former four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle on Nov. 4 to help shore up their injury-depleted defensive line. He played 23 snaps against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 13 in his Bears debut and averaged 42 snaps in his five games.
The team was impressed by what it saw, signing him to a two-year deal this offseason.
Despite making just 10 starts over the past two seasons, Ratliff says he feels great heading into this season, telling Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:
This is the best that I’ve felt in a long time. 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.
He has the ability to play both the 3-technique and nose tackle positions, and he hinted to Jahns that he will not be locked into one position, simply saying, "we like the plan" in regard to what the team wants to do up front.
With Ratliff holding down the starting role, veteran Nate Collins and rookie Will Sutton are his expected backups.
After appearing in nine games in 2012, it appeared Nate Collins had a strong shot of pushing Henry Melton for starting time in 2013. Just like Melton did the week before, Collins tore his ACL in Week 4 last season and missed the remainder of the season.
The team did not re-sign Melton but was impressed enough by Collins and brought him back on a one-year deal.
He has returned to action this offseason from the ACL injury and has already seen time with the first-team defense in minicamp.
Like Ratliff, Collins has the flexibility to play both the 3-technique and nose tackle and should provide solid depth at both positions this season.
Fighting Collins for playing time behind Ratliff will be rookie Will Sutton.
Sutton was voted as a first-team All-American by The Associated Press his final two years at Arizona State and logged 20.5 sacks and 45.5 tackles for loss in his four-year career.
He is short and stout and uses his size to gain leverage against opposing offensive linemen. His snap anticipation, burst off the line of scrimmage and strength are all reasons why Bears fans should be excited about his potential.
After a year in 2013 in which defensive tackles were dropping like flies, the Bears seemingly have the depth to withstand those type of injuries this season.