Monte Kiffin deals with defensive changes

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
5:10
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin goes into his first game with the Cowboys missing a key starter to his defense and the potential loss of another starter.

Defensive tackle Jay Ratliff is on the PUP list, costing him the first six games of the 2013 season, and defensive end Anthony Spencer, who didn't practice Wednesday, is questionable for Sunday night's regular-season opener against the New York Giants.

"Oh, I think it’s day to day," Kiffin said of Spencer after Wednesday's practice at Valley Ranch. "That’d be being really honest with you, it’s day to day."

If Spencer plays his availability would be limited. George Selvie would start but the Cowboys traded for two defensive ends in Edgar Jones and Caesar Rayford in the past 24 hours.

"We’ve got to shuffle a lot of people in and out," Kiffin said. "We’ve just got to make do. All I know is when you play Sunday night and there’s 11 guys out there, I don’t care what your last name is, first name, whatever, I do, but you’re a starter. Play like a starter. It’s why you signed on."

The Cowboys will have two starters along the defensive line, Nick Hayden, who replaces Ratliff and probably Selvie, if Spencer doesn't start, who combined for nine games in 2012. Selvie played nine games with Jacksonville last season while Hayden didn't play because of his recovery from a high-ankle sprain.

"They’ve done a good job," Kiffin said. "They’ve both been on different teams and this and that. But [defensive line] coach Rod Marinelli and I did that same thing at the Bucs or whatever. I guess a lot of people do it. We don’t care where you’ve been, what you’ve done before. It’s a new start right here. We’re going to coach you to the best of our ability and we like them. We like them. They’re showing us good effort."

What the Cowboys are missing is Ratliff's ability to draw double-teams and Spencer's 11 sacks, which he picked up last season. Spencer's play can also force offensive lines to single-block the other defensive end, DeMarcus Ware.

With Spencer out, Ware could get double-teamed as if he were an outside linebacker.

"He was making a lot of moves," Kiffin said of Spencer. "Standing up, putting his hand down, it didn’t matter what he did. That guy, he’s a heck of a player. Of course with 94 on the other side and stuff, that does make a difference. There’s no doubt about that. I’m sure they’re going to game plan the whole thing, but we’ve got to go play."

The secondary and linebacker positions are the only spots with no health issues. During the late stages of training camp, Justin Durant shared first-team snaps with Ernie Sims at strongside linebacker, but a groin injury to Sims slowed the rotation. Durant is expected to start Sunday night and Sims if healthy.

Only Morris Claiborne (knee) dealt with an injury and that prompted him to miss the entire preseason. Claiborne has returned to practice and should start Sunday.

"He’s certainly a big key for us," Kiffin said of Claiborne. "No doubt about it. But he had a good [practice] Monday and a good [practice] today and one day last week. He looked good today now. I do like that."
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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