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jay ratliff | The DC Times

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Can the Cowboys effectively replace Jay Ratliff?

A few weeks ago, I published an article detailing why Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff is in for a steep decline this year. In that article, I posted this graph. . .

Ratliff turned 31 today. Happy Birthday Jay! Your present is that you’ll experience a precipitous drop in effectiveness this year.

So what do the ‘Boys have behind Ratliff? That’s what I examined today at Dallas Morning News.

Last season, Lissemore recorded a sack, hit, pressure, or tackle on 13.1 percent of his snaps, compared to 7.5 percent for Ratliff and 5.8 percent for Brent. Lissemore was really the Cowboys’ most efficient defensive player in 2011—yes, that includes you know who.

Read more on Lissemore and Brent here.

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Cowboys Videos: Jay Ratliff, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah

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The Epitome of Professional: Q&A With Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff

Want a chance to see the Cowboys play and meet Mr. Ratliff in person?  Simply visit Jay’s site for details.
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In our article on Clemson (and now Philadelphia Eagle) defensive end Ricky Sapp, we talked about how being “boring” can be a good thing for a football player.  Demarcus Ware, Jason Witten, and Terence Newman are all “boring” players.  Of course, we aren’t talking about ‘boring’ as in uninteresting, but as determined, methodical, and professional.

If we use the latter descriptions as our definition of ‘boring,’ then we can surely add Cowboys’ stud nose tackle Jay Ratliff to the list.  Since being selected in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft, no one has outworked Jay.  He has used his low draft stock as motivation to succeed, becoming perhaps the league’s most devastating nose tackle in the process.

As the self-described “shyest player on the team,” Jay is anything but timid on the football field.  His aggressiveness is the result of his professionalism–the hard work and dedication he exhibits during the week allow his athleticism to take over on Sundays.  On game day, “Rat” is a beast.

Off the field, however, the personality of the league’s most athletic defensive tackle might surprise you.  We often hear news of players’ wrongdoings, but it is men like Jay–caring, intelligent, and professional–who make the NFL (and the Dallas Cowboys) what it is today.

Jay likes to spend time with his daughters–they enjoy dancing and having tea time, of course.  Having trouble imagining a man who is so aggressive on the football field sitting down for tea time?  You aren’t the only one, but there is more to Jay Ratliff than meets the eye.

In a day and age where knowing the intimate details of a player’s life is the norm, Jay is the exception.  We spoke with Mr. Ratliff to try to uncover a little more about the most mysterious man on the Dallas Cowboys.

Q: How is your offseason going?  What sorts of things are you doing in terms of working out?

A: Well I had surgery this offseason on both of my elbows but I’m fine. I’ll be doing a lot of rehab work to strengthen them.  I had to get the surgery because they caused me so much pain.  It was something I really should have done about three years ago.

Q: Did you gain any motivation from being selected in the last round of the draft?

A: Yes I did.  As a matter of fact, it still fuels me today.

Q: What was the first thing you purchased after signing your five-year contract extension in 2007?

A: The first thing I bought was a house.  I had rented up until then because I wanted to be sure that I would be here.

Q: As a 3-4 nose tackle, you are considered “undersized” at 303 pounds.  Do you feel your low playing weight allows you to maintain your quickness?

A: Yes it does, but I feel like technique is far more important than speed and strength.

Q: What aspects of playing defensive tackle do you enjoy?  What are some perks to moving outside to end?

A: I enjoy being in the middle of everything at nose.  The game is much faster and more violent.  At defensive end it is the complete opposite.  One perk (at defensive end) is it is less wear and tear on the body.

Q: Do you feel the addition of another capable defensive tackle might allow you to move to defensive end in certain situations?  Is this something you would be eager to do?

A: I feel that Junior Savaii is more than capable of playing the position.  He is a great friend and athlete.  As far as me moving, I would if I had to but I wouldn’t say I’m “eager.”

Q: The season obviously did not end as you would have hoped.  What do you believe is the most important aspect of your own game that you must work on to improve upon last year’s results, and the most important thing the team must do as a whole?

A: Good question.  Great question.  There are plenty of things I can get better at.  I think of myself as a “pup.”  I’m constantly learning and trying to get better.  I think the main thing is that I’ll be healthy next year.  As a team, well we have to do just that–be a team.  We also have to be focused and not get caught up in all the hype that surrounds the Super Bowl being played in Dallas.

Q: Do you feel Twitter provides an avenue through which you can connect directly with fans?

A: Yes I do.  I’m also on Facebook as well.

Q: Who is the funniest player on the team?  Smartest?  Shyest?

A: Funniest: Tashard Choice.  Smartest: Stephen McGee.  Shyest: Barber or myself.

Q: Could you beat Tony Romo in a race?

A: Of course I can! (laughs)

Q: What are your goals for the 2010 season?  Do you set an individual goal, such as a sack number, in addition to your team goals?

A: I do set goals but I keep them quiet until I accomplish them.  I will make sure to get back to you once that happens.

Q: Do you have any pregame rituals?

A: Yes, I like to listen to reggae or classical music.  Before kickoff I pace back and forth and talk to myself and pray.

Q: Other than football, what else do you enjoy doing?

A: I enjoy spending time with my daughters.  We go to amusement and water parks.  Their favorite thing is having tea time and dancing.

With an unmatched dedication and drive, it is impossible for Jay Ratliff to do anything but succeed.  He is a warrior.  He is a champion.  Most importantly, he is a professional.



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Cowboys Potential Draft Picks: Lamarr Houston, DT/DE, Texas

Lamarr Houston has the athleticism of a linebacker at defensive tackle.

In a recent mailbag, we discussed the possibility of Dallas drafting a true nose tackle and moving Jay Ratliff to defensive end in certain situations (and subsequently why we believe it is a poor idea). Ratliff proved he is not an elite defensive end and that his speed and quickness are his ticket to success only when he is lined up at the nose.

While we wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the Cowboys selecting a true nose tackle, we think it would come later in the draft. The first few selections will be expected to make a near-immediate impact. Since Ratliff plays nearly every snap at defensive tackle and moving him to end is not a legitimate option, the upside of a rookie NT would be limited.

Instead, we believe the Cowboys will be searching for a player who can line up at both tackle and end in their 3-4 system. We have already mentioned Penn State’s Jared Odrick, UCLA’s Brian Price, and Purdue’s Mike Neal as candidates for this job.

In this version of our “Potential Draft Picks” Series, we look at the possibility of Texas DT Lamarr Houston making the transition to 3-4 end.

Scouting Report

At 6’3”, 305 pounds, Houston has size similar to current Cowboys’ defensive end Marcus Spears. Scouts at the Combine noted how little fat was evident on his frame. His 4.85 forty and 9’6” broad jump are exceptional for his size.

It is rather remarkable how much Houston has flown under-the-radar. He is a rather athletic individual (as shown by his Combine numbers) with great quickness. Of the DT/DE prospects we have studied thus far, Houston is the most like Ratliff. As is the case with Ratliff, he has a very high motor. He rarely disappears on film and there just is not much bad game tape on Houston. Coaches will love his consistency.

It is his lack of outstanding game film that may have him not rated as a top-tier tackle, but this could be due to the nature of Texas’ system more than anything.

Some people question whether Houston will fit better as a three-technique or five-technique player. For Dallas, he would be playing the latter, although we do think his similarities to Ratliff make him a candidate to also win the backup job inside at nose tackle.

For a big interior lineman, Houston also displays a wide range of pass-rush moves. If he can work on his run defense, he could become an excellent complement to Marcus Spears.

There are a few concerns about Houston’s character. He was arrested two years ago for a DWI and, although not necessarily a mark of character, Houston ran at the Combine in tights and bright yellow track shoes. Thus, if the Cowboys are not interested in players who draw attention to themselves, Houston may not be a good fit.

Projection

Houston’s stock has picked up a bit since the Combine, as he cemented himself as the top “second-tier” defensive tackle. Once regarded as a second or third round prospect, there are many draft analysts projecting him to go in the back of the first round. There is little chance he makes it to the end of round two, although with such a deep class, you never know.

For Dallas, selecting Houston in the first round just does not make sense. It would be poor value and there will be better options on the board at the time. If they trade into the early-to-mid second round, then Houston will become a legitimate option. Like we said, though, the grade the Cowboys give Houston will depend on how much of a character concern he is deemed.

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Mailbag: 3/10/10

Q: What is the Cowboys 2010 schedule?

Danny Cloyd, Upper Marlboro, MD

A: You will have to hold off on buying Dallas Cowboys tickets just yet because the 2010 NFL schedule has not yet been released. However, the Cowboys do know their opponents and the location of their games. Excluding the division matchups, the Cowboys will host Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Jacksonville, and Tennessee. They will travel to Green Bay, Minnesota, Arizona, Houston, and Indianapolis.

The road opponents appear to be significantly better than those teams Dallas will host in 2010. The Cowboys could be legitimate underdogs in five or six games next season, which is a rarity for America’s Team, particularly of late.

We see Baltimore OT Jared Gaither as a possible free agent addition, assuming the price is right.

There is one game for which you can already score tickets, as the Cowboys were selected to play the Bengals in the Hall of Fame game, the first preseason game of the season. This means they will have five preseason games– extra snaps to evaluate the rookies and second-year players.

The official NFL schedule generally gets released around the second week of April.

Q: The Cowboys have been inactive thus far in free agency. Do you see them making any moves before the draft? What about the Ravens’ tackle Jared Gaither?

Adam Reinhart, Erie, PA

A: If the Cowboys do sign anyone before the draft, it won’t be anything major. Jerry Jones recently claimed that the team has a lot of players on their own team they need to lock up long-term before worrying about free agents. We imagine the main focus is Miles Austin, with Gerald Sensabaugh also a priority to sign to a long-term deal.

If the Cowboys do sign a free agent to a big-time contract, we think you are correct about it being Jared Gaither. Gaither is a supremely underrated tackle who gave up only six quarterback pressures in all of 2009 (as compared to Flozell Adams’ 42). The Ravens placed a first round tender on him, but they seem fairly willing to deal him to make room for second-year player Michael Oher.

The Cowboys are highly unlikely to yield their first round selection for Gaither, but it is possible Baltimore could let him go for less. If Dallas could obtain him for, say, their second and fourth round picks, then it is a real possibility. However, don’t forget they would still need to lock Gaither up long-term.

There have also been rumors of Dallas being interested in Colts’ restricted free agent Antoine Bethea. He too received a first round tender, but we believe Bethea has much less of a chance of joining the Cowboys this offseason than Gaither.

We recently detailed why Flozell Adams should remain a Cowboy in 2010, but the lure of a signing a player like Gaither without relinquishing a first round draft pick sounds enticing.

Dallas may take a look at UNC's Cam Thomas in the second round, a player who is a true 3-4 nose tackle.

Q: I have seen you think the Cowboys might use an early selection on a college defensive tackle who would transition to defensive end for the Cowboys. Do you believe the team might draft a true nose tackle as a backup to Ratliff? Do you think moving Ratliff to defensive end in certain situations might justify such a selection?

Justin Shoemaker, Exton, PA

A: Drafting a true nose tackle is not out of the question. The Cowboys cannot be satisfied with their depth at the position (Junior Siavii is the primary backup), and a lengthy injury to Ratliff could have extreme consequences for the defense.

If they do address nose tackle in the early rounds of the draft, it would likely be either Tennessee’s Dan Williams (projected late first), Alabama’s Terrence Cody (projected early second), or UNC’s Cam Thomas (projected late second). All three of those players are over 330 pounds, with Cody weighing (a lot) more.

We highly doubt the team will draft a true nose tackle in the first round, though, because the projected impact of that player would be very limited with Ratliff an every-down starter.

Your suggestion of moving Ratliff to defensive end might combat this problem, but would not be worth the risk. Ratliff was formerly a defensive end in the Cowboys’ 3-4 and his performance was mediocre. His quickness and athleticism are what allow him to flourish at nose tackle. He is also powerful enough to be excellent against the run despite his 305 pound frame.

Thus, the earliest we can see Dallas obtaining Ratliff’s backup is the second round. Cam Thomas is the most likely option there, but it is more likely the team will address the need a few rounds later with a guy like UCF’s Torrell Troup or East Carolina’s Jay Ross (who we had the Cowboys selecting in the seventh round of our first mock draft.

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Top Ten Dallas Cowboys Draft Classes of All-Time

As the 2010 draft approaches, we have been focused on bringing you Mock Drafts, various Cowboys’ Potential Draft Picks, and articles on draft strategy. Sometimes, though, the most effective way to predict the future is to study the past. In determining which path the Cowboys may take come April, we have provided you with a “blast from the past”– the top ten Cowboys’ draft classes of all-time.

10. 2008

Best Pick: Mike Jenkins, CB, USF (First Round)

We admit that we are a bit “new school” (although we would argue more of a mix of old and new), and so we begin this list with one of the Cowboys’ most recent drafts. Five of the six selections have already made significant contributions to the team. We chose Jenkins as the best pick of the draft, but that title could also go to RB Felix Jones as well.

The importance of the 2008 draft was not due only to first-rounders Jenkins and Jones, but also to mid-rounders Tashard Choice (fourth) and Orlando Scandrick (fifth). Martellus Bennett rounds out the 2008 class, and collectively they have provided a talented young base upon which the Cowboys will be able to build for years to come.

9. 1961

Best Pick: Bob Lilly, DT, TCU (First Round)

The 1961 Cowboys’ draft class is the oldest on our list and one of only two draft classes in team history to contain two Hall of Famers (you will see the other class later). Bob Lilly was selected to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team and was amazingly a part of both the 1960’s and 1970’s All-Decade teams. He was also an 11-time Pro Bowl selection.

Lilly was also joined by guard Billy Shaw, a player who was drafted in both the AFL and NFL drafts. Shaw was elected to the Hall of Fame, but unfortunately not as a member of the Cowboys. He is the only Hall of Famer to never play a snap in the NFL.

8. 1974

Top Pick: Ed “Too Tall” Jones, DE, Tennessee State (First Round)

The 1974 Cowboys’ draft class was headlined by first-rounder defensive end Ed Jones. The rookie out of Tennessee State eventually became a three-time All-Pro, leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl XII championship.

Jones was joined by third round selection Danny White, an All-Pro player who threw for 155 touchdowns and over 21,000 yards.

7. 1991

Best Pick: Leon Lett, DT, Emporia State (Seventh Round)

The 1991 draft class was headlined by a player whose college would remain an unknown to most had the Cowboys not selected him in the seventh round. Despite his share of bonehead plays and off-field struggles, Leon Lett was a dominant tackle who played an integral role in the Cowboys’ run of 90’s Super Bowl championships (Don Beebe would agree).

The Cowboys also secured a multitude of future impact players in that ’91 draft, including Pro Bowl players Russell Maryland and Erik Williams. In addition, Alvin Harper and Dixon Edwards became starters, and CB Larry Brown, a 12th round selection, was the Super Bowl XXX MVP.

6. 1977

Best Pick: Tony Dorsett, RB, Pittsburgh (First Round)

Tony Dorsett, a Heisman trophy winner at Pitt, was the 2nd overall pick in the 1977 draft. He tallied 92 total touchdowns and over 12,000 yards in his career. Dorsett became the first player to win a Super Bowl just one year after winning a college national championship.

Dorsett was joined by Pro Bowl WR Tony Hill and 10th round San Jose State quarterback Steve DeBerg in the ’77 class.

5. 2005

Best Pick: Demarcus Ware, OLB, Troy (First Round)

Selecting the best pick from the 2005 draft class was also a difficult task, as the Cowboys were able to obtain incredible value in the seventh round with the selection of DT Jay Ratliff. Ware, though, has been so dominant that he became the choice. Although it is too early to tell (and we don’t want to jinx him), there is an excellent shot that we are watching a future Hall of Famer in Ware.

The Cowboys had two first round selections in 2005, and the second was used on Marcus Spears. In addition, the team was able to acquire Pro Bowler Marion Barber and now ex-Cowboy Chris Canty in the fourth round.

4. 1988

Best Pick: Michael Irvin, WR, “The U” (First Round)

The Cowboys probably could not have hit any better with their first two selections in the 1988 draft, selecting Michael Irvin and LB Ken Norton, Jr. The duo went 1-15 in their rookie season, but Irvin was the first component of “the trio” to be selected, and undoubtedly the heart and soul of the 90’s Cowboys dynasty.

Ken Norton, Jr. was a Pro Bowl linebacker, and Dallas also added impact player DT Chad Hennings in the 11th round.

3. 1975

Best Pick: Randy White, DT, Maryland (First Round)

The 1975 “Dirty Dozen” is frequently thought of as the top Cowboys draft class ever, so perhaps we are short-changing them a bit. In addition to selecting Hall of Famer Randy White in the first round, Dallas obtained eleven other rookies to make the team out of camp, including eight who were regular starters for at least one season.

The class was also headlined by LB Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, DE Pat Donovan, and G Herbert Scott, all of whom made the Pro Bowl.

2. 1989

Best Pick: Troy Aikman, QB, UCLA (First Overall)

The Cowboys’ 1989 draft will be remembered for the selection of Troy Aikman as the first overall pick. The importance of hitting on this pick cannot be overstated as, had Dallas missed, it is not crazy to believe the team would currently own only two Super Bowl victories. Instead, Aikman was a HOF player sandwiched between two others in the preceding and following drafts, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith. With Smith getting inducted into the Hall of Fame this fall, the trio will be immortalized together in Canton forever.

The selection of Aikman alone may have been enough for this ’89 class to make our top ten list, but the Cowboys also obtained four other Pro Bowl players who were a vital part of their ’92, ’93, and ’95 championship seasons: guard Steve Wisniewski, fullback Daryl “Moose” Johnston, center Mark Stepnoski, and defensive end Tony Tolbert.

1. 1964

Best Pick: Roger Staubach, QB, Navy (10th Round)

The #1 ranked Cowboys draft class of all-time is also the second-oldest on this list. Back in 1964, the draft was a ridiculously long 20 rounds. During that season, the Cowboys obtained three Pro Bowl players in round seven or later (Staubach, guard Jake Kupp, and WR “Bullet” Bob Hayes). Of course Staubach became a Hall of Famer, throwing for 153 touchdowns and over 22,000 yards.

Incredibly, Staubach was not the only HOF player from the 1964 draft. In the second round, the Cowboys selected a cornerback out of Oregon named Mel Renfro, perhaps the most underrated player in Cowboys’ history. After 52 career interceptions, Renfro was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.

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Cowboys News and Notes

Jay Ratliff wants you to recycle

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05IwAuUVsrk&feature=player_embedded]

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News and Notes

  • NT Jay Ratliff may have been the Cowboys’ defensive MVP, and he underwent surgery today.
  • Calvin Watkins takes a look at what the Cowboys might do with some of their free agents.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iyHh4thRDE]

  • In addition to Emmitt Smith, a few other Cowboys figure to reach the Hall of Fame soon enough.

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Draft Needs

Despite the Cowboys’ early exit from the ’09 playoffs, there is no doubting that this roster is loaded with talent. It is hard to identify a weakness on either side of the ball, but there are some areas that can definitely be improved upon. In my opinion, the top five positions that could be upgraded via the draft are:

1. PR/KR

Although Patrick Crayton’s punt return average was superb this season, this number is skewed because of two long returns for touchdowns (one against Seattle, the other versus Atlanta). During these returns, the Cowboys’ return unit created holes so large that my grandmother could have scored a TD (Disclaimer: Grandma did once run a 4.35, albeit wind-aided). In reality, Crayton is a reliable return-man, but not a gamebreaker. I truly believe the two punt return touchdowns the Cowboys scored this season were in spite of Crayton, not because of him.

At KR, the need for an upgrade is even greater. Despite Felix Jones great burst and playmaking ability, he looked hesitant on kick returns all season. Combine this with the fact that he is due to see a much larger workload on offense next season, and his chances of being a real threat at kick returner dwindle. Kevin Ogletree was adequate on returns, but again, the big-play threat was not there.

While others may view a return specialist as too limited a role to be considered a primary draft need, I believe the game-changing ability this position could provide is well worth a high draft selection (i.e. as high as round two).

Felix would be best suited concentrating on offense.

2. OT (preferably left tackle)

While the offensive line did a respectable job up until the playoff loss in Minnesota, their age is becoming a concern. While experience and continuity are integral parts of playing on the o-line, at a certain point the future must be addressed. With the average NFL experience of the five starters being 9 years, that time is now.

When Marc Colombo went down in the Green Bay game, Doug Free stepped in and did an above-average job at right tackle. However, my film study suggests that left tackle Flozell Adams did not do as superb a job as many others seem to believe. Through that game in Green Bay, Flozell had already allowed six sacks on the season. While his penalties have always been a problem, they seem a bit less tolerable when he is allowing his quarterback to get mauled. Thus, despite the presence of Doug Free, the Cowboys desperately need a young left tackle to get into the mix, perhaps as early as next season.

Flozell Adams struggled more in '09 than many realize.

3. ILB

I hate to rate this position so high, as I absolutely love the job Keith Brooking did this season. His impact came in more than his on-field play, as Brooking instantly became a clubhouse leader. The team may not have gotten as far as they did without his leadership, and for that reason, I believe it is imperative that he returns next season. He makes a great duo at inside linebacker with Bradie James, who is more of a leader on the field.

Brooking’s age, however, means he has one, maybe two more seasons left in the tank. A young, versatile ILB would be a great addition to the defense. While Bobby Carpenter has done better in nickel situations than he gets credit for, a young ILB who can play both the run and pass would free up a roster spot.

Keith Brooking's leadership and presence cannot be understated.

4. K

Dallas is going to give David Buehler every chance to win the kicking job this offseason, but he will have to greatly improve his accuracy for that to happen. Plus, Buehler does not really use up an extra roster spot as a kickoff specialist because he is used on the special teams units.

While kicker is a huge need, it may be better for this position to be filled via free agency instead of the draft, assuming Buehler remains just a kickoff specialist.

Buehler would help the Cowboys a lot by winning the kicking job next season.

5. DE/DT

In Wade Phillips’ version of the 3-4 defense, the defensive end position goes unheralded. Sacks are hard to come by, and the main focus for Marcus Spears & Co. is to stop the run. The ends have done an excellent job of that, particularly Spears and Igor Olshansky, and Hatcher and Bowen do solid work on passing downs.

With a hybrid DE/DT, the Cowboys could spell Spears and Olshansky, yet, more importantly, gain a quality backup behind Jay Ratliff. If Ratliff was to get seriously injured, Junior Siavii, the team’s only backup for him, just wouldn’t cut it. Thus, a player who could be an insurance policy for Ratliff, yet still get some playing time on running downs at DE, would be a great asset to the defense.

Junior Siavii is probably not the answer at DT should Ratliff get hurt.

In my upcoming “Potential Draft Picks” series, I will analyze some of the top prospects at these positions and others, providing you with information about what I see on film and how each prospect might fit in Dallas.