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Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Cowboys position series: Defensive line

By Tim MacMahon

Players: NT Jay Ratliff (signed through 2012), DE Marcus Spears (restricted free agent), DE Igor Olshansky (signed through 2012), DE Stephen Bowen (restricted free agent), DE Jason Hatcher (restricted free agent), NT Junior Siavii (restricted free agent)

What went right: Ratliff proved that his Pro Bowl campaign in 2008 was no fluke, earning a spot on the All-Pro team in his second full season as a starter.

Ratliff has established himself as one of the most disruptive interior linemen in the NFL. He's the rare 3-4 nose tackle that is also a force in the nickel and dime packages. His quickness and motor allow him to make plays that are well out of the range of most nose tackles, as evidenced by his seven sacks, 33 quarterback pressures, eight tackles for losses and four fumble recoveries.

Spears and Olshansky aren't part of the substitution packages, but they were major parts of the NFL's fourth-ranked rushing defense.

Olshansky, in particular, was dominant against the run. Coaches credited him with 76 tackles, which is a lot for a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Olshansky, one of the NFL's strongest men, also made the inside linebackers' jobs a lot easier by consistently controlling the offensive linemen in front of him.

Olshansky and Stephen Bowen combined to more than make up for the free agency loss of Chris Canty at a fraction of the price the Giants paid the ex-Cowboy. Bowen proved that he can be an effective interior pass rusher in the nickel and dime packages. He only had three sacks, but his 35 quarterback pressures ranked third on the team behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.

What went wrong: Not much, really.

If you want to nitpick, you could point out that Hatcher made a minimal impact. Hatcher underwent knee surgery during the offseason and wasnt 100 percent for most of the season. He didnt get much playing time, but thats partly because the other defensive ends did their jobs well.

What's next: All the restricted free agents should return, although none are likely to get long-term deals before next season.

Bowen's goal during the offseason and training camp should be to prove that he can be an every-down player. At some point, the Cowboys might have to decide between keeping the undrafted Bowen or former first-rounder Spears, but that's down the road.

Siavii did a decent job at backup nose tackle, but the Cowboys could give him some competition with a draft pick.

Watch for Marcus Dixon, who spent the last two seasons on the practice squad, to push for a roster spot.