New Bears defensive end Jared Allen knows how to take down opposing quarterbacks. He’s done so 128 ½ times over the past 10 seasons, the most of any player in football over that span.
He also knows plenty about what dominant defensive tackle play does to make his job a little easier. Allen spent his entire six-year stint with the Vikings alongside 3-technique Kevin Williams and his first three seasons in purple and gold were bolstered by nose tackle Pat Williams. In its prime, the “Williams Wall” was virtually impenetrable.
To hear him tell it in his introductory press conference on Monday, Allen thinks Jeremiah Ratliff can form one half of a new "Williams Wall."
“I’ve seen what he can do in Dallas, and when he’s healthy, he’s an absolute beast in the middle,” Allen said. “I’ve had the fortune to play with Pat and Kevin Williams, and he’s up there on that level with them.”
Ratliff, 32, impressed so much in a five-game audition after being claimed off waivers last November that general manager Phil Emery signed him to a two-year deal, letting 2013 franchise player Henry Melton depart for Dallas.
The Cowboys’ seventh-round pick in 2005, Ratliff appeared in just one game as a rookie but caught the eye of coach Bill Parcells. By the end of his second season, the athletic nose tackle was playing meaningful snaps.
In 2007, the arrival of Wade Phillips and his one-gap “30” defense in Dallas put Ratliff in a prime position to excel. He was often slanted and tilted into gaps where he would explode up the field and torment the opposition.
After posting three sacks and four batted balls in 2007, Ratliff started 64 consecutive games over the next four seasons, earning Pro Bowl nods in all of them. He was named first-team All Pro in ’09.
“ He’s a really versatile guy, just about able to do anything,” Phillips told Chicago Football. “Taking on double teams the way he did and still being able to rush the passer is impressive.”
Ratliff’s movement skills and versatility are just two of the traits that had Allen giddy atop the podium on Monday. “What he can do from the nose tackle spot or the 3-technique spot, not only in the run game but in the pass rush game, that’s huge,” Allen said.
“ To have a guy that can consistently get 3 or 4 yards deep, a quarterback’s got one way to go, me or him.”
Allen and Lamarr Houston appear locked in at right and left defensive end, respectively, in the base defense. Ratliff’s flexibility to play both tackle spots – a rather thin position for the Bears currently – is a great luxury.
“He’s a guy that can move, so anytime we went to a four-man front, he plays that stuff really well,” said Phillips. “He plays right around 300 pounds. We actually considered moving him to end because he can move so well, but we had other guys… he’ll fit great in any one-gap defense.”
A unit that surrendered 161.4 yards on the ground per game, over five yards more than the 31st-ranked Falcons, and more than five yards per clip not seeking outside reinforcements in the middle is surprising – especially considering the way the Bears’ depth was exposed a season ago.
Emery thinks the signing of Houston, paired with the return of Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams, among others, will help fortify the run defense. He apparently has a lot of confidence in Stephen Paea and Nate Collins. Emery will almost certainly target the defensive interior in the draft as well.
But the Bears are clearly counting on Ratliff, finally healthy after missing almost two full years with groin and sports hernia injuries, again becoming a dynamic force inside.
“Really strong in the locker room,” Phillips said. “Along with that, experience certainly helps. And ability. A guy making Pro Bowls, a guy with his personality … He’s the kind of player you want. Has the leadership, can make big plays. He’s just a difference maker.”
Allen has authored what could one day become a Hall of Fame career largely because of his incredible relentlessness and work ethic. He has great strength and multiple devastating pass-rushing moves. He’s also earned the respect of his peers by having a high football IQ. There’s a reason Ratliff’s name was mentioned so many times by Allen yesterday: he’s a vital piece of the puzzle for the Bears in 2014.