The Chicago Bears have historically been known for their defense, but the unit was one of the NFL’s worst last year. With just two exhibition games left on the schedule before the start of the regular season, several players are still competing for starting jobs.
Chicago will be without one of their top defenders for the first three games of the season. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff has been suspended because of a DWI charge from over two years ago. Ratliff will return to the starting lineup when he’s eligible to play, but no one else on the defensive line is guaranteed a starting spot.
“Right now, we have one really good player in Jay Ratliff,” Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said before the suspension was handed down. “The other guys are fighting for that second, third, fourth, fifth and potentially sixth spot. There’s a good fight going on right now.”
Looking to take Ratliff’s spot in Week 1 is nose tackle Eddie Goldman. The rookie was selected by Chicago in the second round of this year’s NFL draft, and he won’t even turn 22 years old until January. He has three tackles and one fumble recovery in two preseason games.
Jarvis Jenkins, who has the most experience on the defensive line with Ratliff out of the lineup, is looking to secure a spot in the starting lineup. He’s totaled five tackles this preseason, including one for a loss.
“Everything’s going to reflect on me,” Jenkins said, via espn.com. “I was talking to Ego Ferguson last night. With Rat out the first three games, the defensive line is really the heart of the defense. If we get going, it helps those secondary guys out. We got a lot of young guys, and I’m the most experienced. It’s going to be on me to make sure these guys are ready to play."
Chicago’s defense has been one of the league’s most impressive this preseason. In two victories, they’ve allowed just 21 combined points to the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts. The Bears had four sacks in Saturday’s win against Indianapolis, after averaging less than 2.5 sacks per game last season.
Linebacker Pernell McPhee is expected to be a big part of what Chicago hopes is a much improved defensive unit, but he’s the latest Chicago player to suffer an injury. He missed Tuesday’s practice with a chest injury. McPhee came over from the Baltimore Ravens in the offseason, having missed just four games in four NFL seasons. He recorded a career-high 7.5 sacks last year.
Getting to the quarterback will be key for the Bears, who allowed opposing quarterbacks to have all kinds of success in 2014. Only the Oakland Raiders allowed more points than Chicago, and the Bears ranked 31st by surrendering a 101.7 passer rating to their opponents.