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updated: 3/5/2014 10:33 PM

Ratliff return boosts Bears' defense

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  • Bears defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff (96) helps bring down Packers running back Eddie Lacy in the 2013 season finale.

      Bears defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff (96) helps bring down Packers running back Eddie Lacy in the 2013 season finale.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

They've still got a long way to go to improve last year's injury-decimated defensive line that was a major contributor to the NFL's worst run defense, but the Bears did take a step toward respectability Wednesday by re-signing tackle Jeremiah Ratliff.

The four-time Pro Bowler (2008-11) would have been eligible for free agency next Tuesday, but he agreed to a two-year deal. Ratliff playing impressively in the Bears' final five games last season after recovering from a serious groin injury.

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The Bears still have four defensive tackles who started games last season slated to become unrestricted free agents next week: Corey Wootton, Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Landon Cohen. In addition, defensive end Julius Peppers, who has led the team in tackles four straight seasons, is not expected back unless he takes a drastic pay cut.

Ratliff was cut by the Dallas Cowboys last Oct. 16 after they grew impatient with his return from a late 2012 sports hernia that included torn tendons in his groin and required surgery. The Bears scooped him up Nov. 2, and he returned to the field Dec. 1 for the first time in more than a year. He started the final four games, the first at the 3-technique tackle and the last three at nose tackle.

Ratliff turns 33 in August, but he showed late last season that he still has plenty left in the tank, adding a veteran toughness to a porous unit.

The 6-foot-4, 303-pound, nine-year veteran has 14½ career sacks, including 1½ last season.

The Bears have now signed 10 players since mid-December who were due to become unrestricted free agents, the most of any team in the NFL. Quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerbacks Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden and Derrick Martin, guard Matt Slauson, kicker Robbie Gould, center Roberto Garza, tight end Dante Rosario, fullback Tony Fiammetta also have re-signed.

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