Looking at the Cowboys' 'other' line

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
1:05
PM ET
Ratliff
We have discussed, at great length here, the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line and their offseason needs at guard and center. But ESPNDallas.com's position-by-position series stops today on the other side of the ball, with the defensive line and a look at what needs to improve there. Tim MacMahon believes the line's problems in 2011 were its lack of involvement in the pass rush. There seems to be talk every year of moving Jay Ratliff from nose tackle to defensive end to help with the pass rush, and Bryan Broaddus' take here makes me wonder if that might not be the worst idea in the world:
Ratliff made the Pro Bowl which surprised me. I like Ratliff and respect the way he played, but there were times where he was clearly better than the centers that he was playing against and he didn't always take advantage of the matchup. Ratliff doesn't always face double teams. Where Ratliff struggles the most is when he gets worn down. That's why guys like [Josh] Brent and [Sean] Lissemore are key to keeping him as fresh as possible. I like the nose men on this team but the front office needs to find some upgrades at end to give the defense a chance.

So why not move Ratliff out there? Surely, he wouldn't object to a course of action that results in him wearing down less. He does like to get after the passer, and as great as he's been as a Cowboy, he's not a traditional, massive, two-blocker-eating 3-4 nose tackle. Lissemore has 20 pounds on him and Brent has 35. Wouldn't it make sense, if either of those guys can handle the position, to go bigger in the middle and spring Ratliff out to end where his athleticism could be a more consistent asset?

This idea started to make sense to me when I read this piece from Nick Ellis on Monday, about the idea of the Cowboys pursuing someone line Paul Soliai as a more traditional 3-4 nose tackle if the Dolphins switch to a 4-3 and let him walk. Lissemore and Ratliff look like playmakers, so why not use them more on the outside and let someone like that do the dirty work against the center and guards? I always thought 3-4 defensive ends existed to clear room for pass-rushing linebackers. But if they can't upgrade from Anthony Spencer and either have to bring him back or go with a substandard option on that side opposite DeMarcus Ware, they're going to need some people on the line who can get to the quarterback. Me, I wouldn't want those people being swallowed up in the middle.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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