Let me make one thing clear from the outset: Bears general manager Ryan Pace made the right call when he released veteran defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff.
Ratliff was a disturbance and a distraction to the team and was mentally unstable. But even from a football perspective, the 34-year-old defensive lineman did not factor into the team’s long-term plans.
With that said, Ratliff still can play football and it was evident from the play of the defensive line in Sunday’s 23-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings that Ratliff’s leadership and tenacity were sorely missed.
I won’t accuse the Bears of not trying hard, but I do feel there were some emotions clearly missing early in the game, the kind of emotional boost that Ratliff typically provided.
As the Bears are in a state of change, there are leadership roles on defense that need to be filled. Antrel Rolle is the leader of the secondary, but where else do the Bears get their direction from? Shea McClellin has been missing with a knee injury for quite some time and he was the signal caller of the defense. Pernell McPhee is the defense’s best player, but he seems more a leader by example.
It’s going to take some more time for Pace to assemble the right pieces and for head coach John Fox to establish the right culture, and removing a belligerent Ratliff from that equation was a step in the right direction.
Who’s going to step up and take the leadership void left by Ratliff? That player might not be on the team yet.