SAN ANTONIO - The first thing Rob Ryan needs to do is find a giant "fat" guy and put him at nose tackle, and immediately make Jay Ratliff the defensive end he should be.
"Everybody keeps asking me that," Ratliff TOLD ME after Cowboys' practice today. As they should. Ratliff is a defensive end who converted to nose tackle out of necessity.
When Ratliff entered the league out of Auburn as a seventh round pick, he was listed as a defensive end. this is a guy who played tight end and offensive line in high school and college. But when the Cowboys lost Jason Ferguson early in 2007 to a season-ending injury, Ratliff was moved to nose in an emergency move. No one saw this ocean-sized leap Ratliff would make, and become one of the most unique nose tackles in the NFL. He is one of the most aggressive and relentless defenders in the league. There is a screw loose in this guy that allows him to become a pit bull on the field. He scares his own teammates.
But at 6-4, 303 pounds, he's one of the smaller nose tackles you are going to find manning the middle in a 3-4. He's 29, in his seventh season, and eventually the poundings he takes inside will wear him down earlier than he should be.
He is built to be a defensive end, ideally in a 4-3, but would become a perfect pass rushing mate opposite DeMarcus Ware.
"OK, I feel like you're trying to make a big deal out of it. It's not a big deal. If I'm end, I'm end. If I'm nose, I'm nose," Ratliff TOLD ME. "Wherever I'm needed that's where I'm going to be."
Ratliff is like Rangers DH/3B/2B/SS/1B Michael Young in that he means it. He cares tremendously. And he'll do whatever.
But he should be a defensive end.
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