Back on March 5 when Ratliff re-signed with the Bears, an NFL assistant familiar with the defensive tackle's abilities called him "a soldier if healthy." Allen said pretty much the same thing Monday when asked what he liked about Chicago's defense.
"One of the people that excites me the most is Jay Ratliff," Allen said. "I've gotten to know Jay over the years at the Pro Bowl. I've seen what he can do in Dallas, and when he's healthy, he's an absolute beast in the middle. I've had the fortune to play with Pat and Kevin Williams, and he's up there on that level with them. What he can do from the nose tackle spot or the three-technique spot, not only in the run game, but in the pass game: That's huge. To have a guy that can consistently get 3 or 4 yards deep, a quarterback's got one way to go -- me or him. That, I'm really excited about."
So obviously, the expectations for Ratliff in 2014 grow beyond the team's initial cautious optimism regarding the defensive tackle last season when the club signed him as a stopgap measure for a depleted front four. The Bears looked realistically at Ratliff's acquisition last November, realizing internally there was a legitimate chance he might not pan out.
The Bears figured that if Ratliff turned out to be a wasted signing, the move was well worth the risk because they hadn't given up any picks and spent little on a one-year deal for a player with Pro Bowl pedigree rehabbing from an injury.
Ratliff participated in just five games in 2013, contributing 14.5 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks but showed enough for the Bears to sign him to a two-year deal in March worth $4 million.
Pairing Allen next to Ratliff next season could turn out to be a bargain. During his tenure in Minnesota, Allen developed uncanny chemistry with defensive tackle Kevin Williams over a six-year period and expects similar results alongside Ratliff, provided the duo puts in the work on the practice field.
"It's getting those reps in practice with the guy to understand, 'OK, what's his countermove?' I'll need to know what Jay's countermove is so when I'm rushing up the field and I see him up that he's gonna counter," Allen said. "And he also needs to understand like, 'Hey, I need you to make a decision by two or three steps here.' That's how you start falling off with things naturally with each other. I could literally look at Kevin and if we had a set that we saw, I could look at him and we just knew that 'OK here, you're gonna go up and I'm gonna come under or vice versa. So it just comes down to reps and communication and talking about it. It comes down to obviously the philosophy of the d-linemen, of what Coach is gonna allow us to flow in and out of. If everybody knows what each other knows then you can play off each other well."