Dallas Cowboys: Jay Ratlif

Cowboys still need D-line help

March, 7, 2013
IRVING, Texas – With the Cowboys placing the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer for the second straight year, the short-sighted view is to say the Cowboys can push defensive line down the list of needs when it comes to the draft.


The Cowboys can’t afford to be so short-sighted.

The projected starting defensive line is DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Spencer. By the time the season starts Ware will be 31, Ratliff will be 32, Hatcher will be 31 and Spencer will be 29.

Ware is coming back from shoulder surgery, but the feeling is he will continue his Pro Bowl run in the new scheme. Ratliff has had his sack total decrease every year for the last five years. Hatcher and Spencer (at least for now) are on one-year deals.

Of the backups, only Sean Lissemore, 26, and Tyrone Crawford, 23, should be viewed as potential starters. This does not include Marcus Spears, who turns 30 on Friday, and Josh Brent, whose status is unknown because of the December car accident.

The Cowboys can’t view the Spencer tag as a reason to avoid taking a defensive lineman in the top three rounds.

The draft is not only about 2013. It’s about 2013 and beyond.

When the Cowboys are on the clock for the 18th pick and their highest-rated player is a defensive lineman, take him and be happy.

Pondering the 46: Not enough healthy players

November, 21, 2012
IRVING, Texas – Finding 46 healthy players for Thursday’s game against Washington will be difficult for the Cowboys, which makes the final few roster spots that much more precious.

Left tackle Tyron Smith is slowed by a high left ankle sprain. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff has a groin injury. Running backs DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones are hurt. Safety Charlie Peprah and wide receiver Kevin Ogletree suffered concussions on Sunday and are iffy. Ryan Cook has a sore knee. Danny McCray is battling a hip injury.

But when pondering the 46-man roster this week it’s all about position numbers. The Cowboys would ideally take seven offensive linemen to the game, but Smith’s injury might force them to take an eighth even if Smith dresses for the game.

If they take an eighth, then they would have to go lighter somewhere else, like receiver, which puts Andre Holmes’ gameday spot in jeopardy. If they take seven linemen, then Holmes would figure to be active.

Jones’ knee injury leaves the Cowboys dangerously thin at running back too. Murray is likely to miss his sixth straight game. Maybe Jones can play and be on a pitch count, but Lance Dunbar could get more carries.

On the defensive line the hope is that Ratliff can play, especially with Sean Lissemore gimpy. The Cowboys don’t want to have to enter the game with only five defensive linemen. If they do, then you could see more of that hybrid 4-3 look with Alex Albright, Dan Connor and Bruce Carter handling the linebacker spots and Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware playing defensive end.

The secondary could be jumbled with McCray’s injury. They do not have many options at safety if he can’t play, but the return of Mike Jenkins from a two-game absence due to a back injury would help move Brandon Carr to safety in passing situations.

So who’s inactive? The guesses are: Murray, Ogletree, David Arkin, Phil Costa, Vince Agnew, Cook and Lissemore

Rob Ryan pleased with No. 1 ranking

September, 29, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- When Rob Ryan showed up as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator last year, he promised to have the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

Three games into the 2012 season, he has it.

“It’s going to be big if we can get it after 16 weeks, that would be good,” Ryan said. “We’re happy where we are. The guys have been working hard. We're not ashamed of being No. 1, that’s where you want to be.”

The Cowboys are allowing 250 yards a game and are second in the NFL in pass defense, giving up 137 yards a game. Quibble if you want that the Cowboys have played against Seattle rookie Russell Wilson and an overmatched Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay, but they held Eli Manning to 213 yards in the season-opening win against the New York Giants.

“I haven’t done anything,” Ryan said. “I think all of our players and coaches have. We’re working hard. Look, we want to have a great defense and that’s the way it is. We’re excited where we are but more excited about where we’re going.”

While the Cowboys made upgrades at cornerback in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, nose tackle Jay Ratliff has yet to play this season because of a high ankle sprain. They have also played without starters in defensive end Kenyon Coleman and safety Gerald Sensabaugh and lost safety Barry Church to a torn Achilles last week.

“I think this group is all in together,” Ryan said. “We worked hard last year. We just weren’t quite as effective but all our guys believe in each other. They’re playing hard. I think they believe in the coaches. All our coaches have equal input. They work their butts off and we’re trying to do everything assigned to us properly. I think we’re all really coming together.”

Jason Hatcher glad to get snaps vs. Rams

August, 24, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jason Hatcher is entering his seventh season. He has played in 88 games and started 11, including a career-high 10 last season.

ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins previews the Cowboys' third preseason game against the Rams, who the team might cut, surprises in camp and more.

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You would think he wouldn’t need a preseason game to get ready for the regular season.

“Not a whole lot, but I definitely need snaps to get the game speed down,” said Hatcher, who missed the first two preseason games because of a hamstring strain. “It’s different than in practice and to get those snaps against St. Louis, it will be beneficial for me just to get ready to move on to the Giants.”

Remember those words when thinking about Miles Austin, Jason Witten and Phil Costa as they return from injuries entering the Sept. 5 opener at New York. Austin and Costa have not taken a snap in a preseason game, although Costa might play Wednesday against Miami. Witten took a handful of snaps against Oakland before suffering his spleen injury.

The defense will be close to 100 percent Saturday against St. Louis, but DeMarcus Ware won’t play because of a hamstring injury. Having Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff back will help.

“We’ve got to get on the same page,” Hatcher said. “It’s good to have Rat back. He’s taking snaps there, but we’ve got to get D-Ware back on the field before so we can all get some camaraderie on the field, get the system down and move forward.”

Cowboys camp review: the good and bad

August, 9, 2012
OXNARD, Calif. – The Cowboys will hold their ninth practice of training camp today, so what better time to quickly review the good and the bad so far in Oxnard, Calif.

Biggest surprise: Barry Church. From the first practice he showed he was ready to take the safety spot opposite Gerald Sensabaugh. And he did take it. Now, will it translate into a good season? We’ll see, but Church has earned the coaches’ trust in how he has worked his way up the depth chart.

Best player, offense: It’s hard not to say Dez Bryant. He has made a ton of plays. But it should be pointed out he did the same thing inside the Alamodome last summer. Can it carry over to the real games?

Best player, defense: There have been a few candidates. I eliminated Church because the expectations weren’t the same. Sean Lee has been terrific. But the vote goes to DeMarcus Ware, who has been everywhere. Facing Ware has been a good thing for Tyron Smith in the second-year tackle's move to the left side.

Biggest disappointment: Has to be the injuries. Miles Austin aggravating a hamstring early in camp isn’t good. Jay Ratliff not being able to practice isn’t good. Morris Claiborne has had one padded practice. Mike Jenkins isn’t cleared. Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau have not practiced together yet. The Cowboys keep up with the ‘What me worry?’ front on the injuries, but there’s a reason teams hold training camp.

Need to see more from, offense: David Arkin. He’s certainly getting the work necessary to show he can make the team. He’s the first-team right guard and second-team center. It has been a struggle with the snaps. He still doesn’t play with great strength, but some in the organization view him still as a rookie because of last year’s lockout and Arkin being inactive every game.

Need to see more from, defense: Josh Brent. He is being pushed by Rob Callaway for the backup nose tackle job. Callaway can play some end as well. That’ll be a good battle through camp. Brent is the more naturally strong point-of-attack player, but sometimes he gets out of position.

Keep an eye on in the preseason, offense: Wide receiver Tim Benford. He just catches the ball. I can’t think of a drop off the top of my head. He is not a body catcher. He’ll use his hands. He runs good routes. Can he play special teams? Runner-up – Cole Beasley

Keep an eye on in the preseason, defense: Cornerback Mario Butler. He did not have a stellar offseason in the organized team activities and minicamp. He lacks top speed at corner, but he has not been beaten deep. The coaches are using him at safety as well. When you’re talking about the back end of the secondary rotation, position flexibility is a must. Runner-up – Mana Silva

Despite perception, character matters

April, 26, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- There is a long-held perception among many outside Valley Ranch that character means little to the Cowboys when it comes to the evaluation process.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has selected some questionable characters (Quincy Carter comes to mind) but he also passed on Randy Moss in 1998. During Wednesday’s pre-draft press conference the term "makeup" was thrown around a lot by Jones, coach Jason Garrett and assistant director of player personnel Tom Ciskowski.

For Garrett, makeup means a lot. The Cowboys’ draft last year was filled with serious-minded players who were either captains or leaders of their teams, such as Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter, DeMarco Murray and Dwayne Harris.

"Guys that have the right kind of motor at early levels, the right kind of motor, the right kind of track records of competes, the right kind of track of work ethic, you can go down through those top picks you might find there is 20 percent of them that have outstanding makeup," Jones said.

"It’s not something that is easily attained for a player and that is factored in. We have that factored in with the grade; the fact that he practices like [Jay] Ratliff or he plays like Ratliff. To me that would be where we want to watch for and not get enamored with some of the other things that might make him impressive and stick to the fact that within a week he has to be out here and he has to hit the ground with the kind of work ethic he has never seen before and we want him to be in step with those guys. That is a plus. That is an ideal situation."

"Obviously if we could get the fastest strongest biggest with the greatest makeup of Jason Witten or frankly [Marc] Colombo, you could bottle that up or get that in a player with a lot of skill you have really done something.”

But there is a sliding scale involved if a talented player remains in later rounds, according to Garrett.

"When certain players have a great, great physical ability do you still want guys who have great make up?," Garrett said. "My experience and I think all of our experience has been the makeup part of a player is a big key to their success.

"Having said that, you’re more willing to look at a player who has more ability. You see it around the league every year on every football team with rookie players and with veteran players. So you’re always evaluating the player. You have to figure out what makeup quality they have that is fatal. In no way are we going to take this guy for this reason, I don’t care how great a player he is. Then you have to say, 'OK, what are his makeup issues? What are his character issues? Are they fatal? Is there something we can help them with?' And then you kind of work your way through that."

Garrett continued: "How good a player is he? Is he worth it? Where are we taking him? You like to say there is a hard and fast rule, you like to make it black and white, but that’s not the reality of it. You have to talk it through. You have to have a philosophy that you stick with consistently and then you have to weigh the risks of when we take that particular player."

Jason Witten: Cowboys' time to prove it

April, 18, 2012
SOUTHLAKE, Texas – Jason Hatcher caused a little bit of a ruckus earlier in the offseason when he said on ESPN Dallas Radio’s “Ben and Skin Show” that he was not sure who the Cowboys' leaders were and that the team needed a more vocal leader.

Seven-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten respectfully disagrees.

“I don’t want to speak for anybody but we’ve got plenty of leaders,” Witten said after an appearance at a Southlake Dunkin Donuts. “We’ve been in more situations where there’s been more players-only meetings and that. The bottom line is that we’ve got to go and play better and win ballgames and find a way to do that. I think you do that by sticking together. I think you do that when you have a strong group of six, eight, 10 guys, whatever it is. Jay Ratliff, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, of course [Tony] Romo and you add young guys in there that are big-time players."

Romo’s decision to sit out next month’s U.S. Open local qualifier has been viewed by some as a sign of a more serious approach by the quarterback and the team.

“I don’t think anybody ever doubted his dedication, but I do think there’s a perception that goes along with that,” Witten said. “That’s never taken anything away from what he’s done on the football field. He’s the first one in. He’s the last one to leave. He’s been that way for a long time. I believe he puts us in position to be successful. He’s an elite quarterback but until he wins a championship and we do that, the critics are going to come. But the best thing about him is he’s so far past that that he knows he’s got one goal and he’s all in to do that.”

While the offseason program officially began Monday, a majority of the players had been working out at the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch facility for more than a month prior. Witten said the season-ending loss to the New York Giants has served as motivation, especially after seeing their NFC East rivals win their second Super Bowl in five years.

“You’ve got to be your best at key times,” Witten said. “You see the San Francisco-Giants game and it could’ve gone either way. The Ravens-New England game could’ve gone either way. You can’t say you’re close. You’ve got to go do it and prove it and make those plays in those key situations that allow you to win. We had too many games go the other way.”

Opposing voice: Stephen Bowen

November, 19, 2011
IRVING, Texas -- Washington defensive end Stephen Bowen admits he was a little more emotional when he played against the Cowboys in September.

It was his first time back to Cowboys Stadium after signing a five-year deal with the Redskins in fre agency.

“This time it’s more of a divisional game, trying to get a win at home and trying to get going back on the right track,” Bowen said.

Bowen has a career-high 3.5 sacks in his first year with the Redskins to go with 29 tackles and 10 quarterback pressures. He is in the midst of his first year as a full-time starter after showing he can handle a large load last year with the Cowboys after Marcus Spears was lost for the season with a calf injury.

“I love the defense,” Bowen said. “Getting the opportunity to really showcase myself whereas in Dallas I was mostly a situational guy, so they believed in me here and I love it here. I’m back on the east coast. I’m close to my family. I think I made all the right moves.”

But he admits to missing teammates, like DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Jay Ratliff and Spears.

“Some of those guys are my best friends,” Bowen said. “But on the field it’s business. After the game then, you know that’s when we can crack jokes and stuff like that.”