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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

How Will Ratliff’s Suspension Shake Up the Defensive Line?

Remember this quote?

“Right now we have one really good player in Jay Ratliff. The other guys are fighting for that second, third, fourth, fifth and potentially sixth spot.”

Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio told reporters that in early August before preseason games started, making it clear that Ratliff, aging and injury-prone, was nevertheless the best defensive lineman on the Chicago Bears’ roster.  

Well, now we’ll get to find out what it’s like to shift to a 3-4 defense when your best defensive lineman is suspended for three games after he pleads guilty to a DWI charge.

Ratliff, who had played mostly nose tackle so far, will no doubt start when he returns. But in the meantime, the Bears should play him sparingly, keeping him in game shape and learning the defensive system but avoiding injury and finding his replacement for the first three games.

There shouldn’t be much debate about who that replacement will be, either. Rookie Eddie Goldman, drafted in the second round out of Florida State, has looked solid so far in his first two preseason games, and is the best – and pretty much only – option to replace Ratliff at nose tackle. Goldman hasn’t registered much in the first two preseason games, notching a total of three tackles. Still, look for him to see more playing time Saturday and in the final preseason game as the team seeks to get him up to par for the opening game against Green Bay.

At 6’4” and more than 330 pounds, Goldman has the heft to play nose tackle, and to top it off, he’s really the only option.

Aug 13, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins (96) reacts to making a tackle during the first quarter of a preseason NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Ratliff was the best pass rusher on the defensive line and one of the better run defenders, so now the Bears need the defensive ends – Jarvis Jenkins, Ego Ferguson, Willie Sutton, Brandon Dunn – to have more of an impact. I’m guessing that with Ratliff out, any pass rushing value of the defensive line will be voided. There just isn’t a pass rusher there, except maybe Sutton, who is still learning the 3-4 end spot after playing 4-3 defensive tackle as a rookie. Best case scenario, the ends and Goldman can hold the line on the running game, allowing Fangio to turn Pernell McPhee, Jared Allen and the other outside linebackers loose on passing downs.

Next: Remember When This Guy Looked Like a Great Player?