The Cowboys haven't seen much of Jay Ratliff since last season. They might not see much of him in the next couple of weeks either. Although the Cowboys haven't ruled out Ratliff for the season opener, it seems unlikely he could return that quickly from a high-ankle sprain. The injury typically takes 2-4 weeks, and given that the Cowboys open the season Sept. 5, that means Ratliff would have to return in 11 days.
Ratliff, a four-time Pro Bowler, has not missed a game since the 2007 season. He played 750 plays last season in 16 games, making 42 tackles with two sacks and 18 quarterback pressures.
"He’s a tough guy like everybody knows," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
Ratliff missed most of the off-season, most of training camp and the first two preseason games with plantar fasciitis in his foot. He returned to the lineup for Saturday's preseason game against the Rams and injured his ankle.
So his backups, Sean Lissemore and Josh Brent, are in a familiar spot. They had been splitting first-team reps in Ratliff's absence and will continue to do so as long as Ratliff is out this time.
"It was something I think Josh and I both needed, getting some more reps with the No. 1 defense and against our No. 1 offense and stuff," Lissemore said. "In that sense, it was really beneficial. It prepared us for this situation, possibly. It was better competition and higher tempo. We’re glad we got that."
Lissemore, a seventh-round pick in 2010, played 282 plays at end and nose last season. He made 39 tackles with two sacks and five quarterback pressures. He had been expected to have a bigger role this season, even before Ratliff's latest injury.
Brent, a seventh-round supplemental pick in 2010, has 30 tackles in two seasons. He played 137 plays last year while giving Ratliff a breather.
At 320 pounds, 17 pounds heavier than Lissemore, Brent is expected to play more of the team's base package with Lissemore getting work in the substitution packages.
"At that position, there are so many different combinations you can play with," Garrett said. "We have a number of different guys who we like to play. We play a variety of fronts, so as the game goes on, I would expect Josh Brent and Lissemore to play in his place [if Ratliff is out]."
-- Charean Williams