Chicago Bears: Projecting the 2015 Defensive Starters

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Jeremiah Ratliff, NT

Dec 21, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (90) against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field. The Lions defeated the Bears 20-14. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Before coming to the Bears as a free agent mid-season in 2013, the player then known as Jay Ratliff went to the Pro Bowl 4 straight years (2008-2011) with the Dallas Cowboys and was considered one of the best nose tackles in the game.  He played serviceably in that initial short run with the Bears after his acrimonious release from the Cowboys, notching 1.5 sacks while appearing in 5 games.

On a defensive unit where strong performances were few and far between, Ratliff is widely considered to have been the best on the Bears defense in 2014.  In 11 games played/started, Ratliff recorded 6.5 sacks to go with 37 combined tackles (21 solo).  In a dysfunctional locker room where maybe the only way to lead effectively was to do so on the field, Ratliff let his play do the talking in 2014.

In the second round of the 2015 Draft, the Bears selected Eddie Goldman out of FSU to be the NT of the future.  I suspect that future won’t come immediately and Goldman can spend some time behind Ratliff on the depth chart and hopefully learn from him along the way.  Ratliff is 34 years old, however, and his injury issues are the reason he ended up on the Bears in the first place.  For that reason Goldman may take over at some point in 2015, but Ratliff gets the initial nod.

Ego Ferguson, RE

Coming into the league as a raw but athletic 3-technique defensive tackle, Ferguson played in all 16 games as a rookie in 2014.  In that first campaign of his professional career there weren’t many highlights, but he did notch 2 sacks and 24 total tackles (12 solo) as a member of the d-line rotation.

Ferguson gets lumped into the group of several players on this defense who possess potential that we are collectively hoping Vic Fangio can fully tap into.  His skill set is unrefined and he’s still learning in an overall football sense, so in that regard moving to a new position in 2015 shouldn’t alter his trajectory.

Cornelius Washington, LE

Aug 14, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears defensive end

Cornelius Washington

(94) during the third quarter of the preseason game at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Much like with Ego Ferguson, I’m playing the potential game with Washington.  He’s a largely unproven talent with physical traits that indicate he belongs in the NFL, but he has yet to inject himself into the starting lineup conversation.  It’s 3 years in the NFL now for this developmental project and the upheaval on the defense creates the ideal opportunity for him to show what he can do.

Jarvis Jenkins should serve as primary competition for both Washington and Ferguson for the starting DE spots, and Jenkins has the experience edge over both of them — having started 33 games over his 4-year career.  The number of starts combined for Washington and Ferguson?  Zero.

The defensive end position seems to be the weakest on the team in terms of experience and top-level talent, so it really will be a competition of guys trying to seize on this unique opportunity.  There probably won’t be many other times — if any — in their careers where they’ll find themselves on a defense that is essentially starting over.  The proverbial reset button has been pushed for the Bears defense, and in the same way on the careers of many of their players.

And there you have it, BGO readers, my attempt at projecting the 2015 defensive starters.  Lets put this in a time capsule and check back on September 13th to see if I was even close.  With all the change going on, I’ll consider 75% accuracy a success.  Let us know what you think in the comments.

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