Thursday, November 12, 2009

Texas NFL Capsules: NT Ratliff has no plan to be weak link for Cowboys

The Associated Press

IRVING — Jay Ratliff was still a backup for the Dallas Cowboys, a defensive end and former seventh-round draft pick with only a handful of tackles when coach Wade Phillips arrived.

Yet nearly three years ago, Phillips saw something much more in Ratliff, who has since moved to nose tackle and become a Pro Bowl player.

"Jerry (Jones, the Cowboys owner) can tell you when I got here, after a little while, I said, our best player is a backup player," Phillips said. "I mean, he's been impressive since I got here. ... He was going to play there whether the other guy got hurt or not."

After Jason Ferguson tore his right biceps in the 2007 season opener, in Phillips' debut as the Cowboys coach, Ratliff took over in the middle of the defensive front. He has started every game since, and is having another standout season after making the Pro Bowl last year.

Ratliff even earned a new level of respect from Phillips during a 20-16 victory in Philadelphia on Sunday night that gave the Cowboys (6-2) sole possession of the NFC East lead.

"At halftime, we came in and he says, 'My fault on the running game.' I said, 'No, it isn't your fault.' He jumps back at me and said 'It's my fault,'" said Phillips, who finally conceded and listened as Ratliff said he would correct things. "Accountability is important, and I think everybody talks about it, but doing it is another thing."

Philadelphia gave up 70 rushing yards by halftime but only 19 after that.

The soft-spoken Ratliff, a fifth-year player from Auburn whose demeanor is vastly different from the all-out way he performs on the field, doesn't know why anybody would make a big deal about him being accountable for his mistakes.

"I know my responsibilities and I got out of line on two plays. It didn't 'hurt us' hurt us, but it was way more than we as a defense want to give up," Ratliff said Wednesday. "It was my fault. ... If I do wrong, I'm going to stand up and say I did wrong."

Ratliff finished the Philadelphia game with eight tackles and two sacks. He has 42 tackles and four sacks this season.

"Man, he's a beast," linebacker Bradie James said. "I don't know if there is a defensive tackle in the league who is as quick as he is and as fast as he is and as relentless as he is. He's one of the biggest assets on our defense."

Phillips, who is also the team's defensive coordinator, talks about how Ratliff's attitude and relentless play is "a great example" for other players to try to emulate.

"A lot of guys don't know that they're not playing like Ratliff," Phillips said. "They think they're playing hard."

Ratliff's response to the compliments? He said he's just playing the game the way it's supposed to be played.

"I don't want to be the weak link on the team or anything like that. It's as simple as that. That's why I want to do well, I want to win games and want to contribute to the team," he said. "It goes back to the basic fundamentals of the game, wherever the ball is, you need to be there."

But try telling Ratliff it appears that he is stepping up in a leadership role, and he is quick to divert the line of conversation — "y'all throw that word around so loosely," he said.

"Really, that's enough about that."

Gurode, Hamlin held out of Cowboys practice

IRVING — Center Andre Gurode and safety Ken Hamlin were held out of the Dallas Cowboys' practice Wednesday.

Coach Wade Phillips says it would have been unlikely that Gurode (ankle sprain) and Hamlin (groin strain) could have played if it had been a game day. But he isn't ruling them out of Sunday's game at Green Bay.

Gurode and Hamlin both were injured in the 20-16 victory at Philadelphia last Sunday night. Phillips says both returned to play in the game after being hurt.