DALLAS (105.3 THE FAN) – The Cowboys spent the off-season envisioning a return to stardom for four-time Pro Bowler Jay Ratliff.
The switch to the 4-3 is part of that; Ratliff has 27 career sacks while largely playing nose guard, and the switch to the 3-Technique position in this defense figured to free him to pile up numbers.
Also a factor: By the time the NFL season starts, Ratliff will have been sidelined for eight months to rest and rehab following a December hernia surgery and a hamstring problem the Cowboys say he sustained at the beginning of training camp.
But now, after a preseason of Ratliff inactivity, how rested, rehabbed and ready is he to participate in the regular-season opener against the Giants?
“We just don’t know how he’s going to measure up with the symptoms and how wise that is to play him,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says. “It’s too early to rule it out. But it’s something you shouldn’t book.’’
The last time Ratliff recorded a sack? Dec 4, 2011.
The last time Ratliff recorded a tackle? Nov. 18, 2012.
And yet there is little choice to have patience here, to “not hurry’’ Ratliff, as Jones says.
Ratliff didn’t practice again Monday, his work being limited largely to the weight room. Remaining on the PUP list to start the season seems increasingly likely – and that would mean missing the first six games of the season.
“I don’t have a way to assess beyond (this) week, but I don’t see him on the practice field (this) week,” Jones said. “We are having to really feel our way. It’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve got to keep an eye on his strength as far as coming out too early.”
The trickle-down of Ratliff’s absence has been overcome by Dallas’ defense in the preseason; through four games, the Cowboys defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown. But no Ratliff (and no Anthony Spencer, his fellow Pro Bowler and the planned starter at strong-side end) leaves many roles undecided. The iconic DeMarcus Ware is at weak-side end. A variety of lesser lights take up snaps elsewhere. And veteran leader Jason Hatcher is picking up much of the interior slack.
“I’m very excited about where our defense is right now,’’ says Hatcher, who himself sat out Monday’s work with a groin injury. “We will get Spencer back, and (cornerback Mo) Claiborne, and Ratliff, and we will be even better. I’m not making predictions right now, but we have to keep working and playing like we have been playing, and we will be OK.”
But as has been the case for the last eight months, the Cowboys might have to do it without Jay Ratliff.
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