OXNARD, Calif. – It doesn't seem like Jay Ratliff is going to play this preseason – and Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones is just fine with that.
Jones spoke at length about his defensive tackle's health Friday night following the Cowboys' loss to Oakland, and he emphasized – often – that the key is to not rush the ninth-year veteran back to the field.
"I think that I have to encourage everybody to put it in perspective. I'm interested in him being in shape, I'm interested in him having the best chance to play as much as he can during the season. I don't have any desire to see him make a lot of plays in preseason to know what he can do," Jones said. "And so our goal should be and I know this is, is, to get him back here lined up against the Giants so he can stay on the field a little bit this season – relative to any injuries or anything like that."
Ratliff missed 10 games in 2012 with a litany of injuries – including his ankle and groin. His season ended in December when he had surgery on a sports hernia.
He did some work in the Cowboys' new 4-3 defensive scheme during OTA's and minicamp in the spring. But Ratliff hasn't suited up at training camp since he aggravated a hamstring injury during the pre-camp conditioning test.
Jones said the injury isn't something that should hamper Ratliff's season.
"We've got it diagnosed, and he's got it diagnosed," Jones said. "I'm comfortable that we all understand what we need to get accomplished, how long it takes and we can be conservative from there. As long as it's not costing him getting in there against the Giants."
Last season was the first time Ratliff missed playing time since 2007. But the quantity of his injuries in 2012, coupled with his age –he turns 32 in a few weeks – have raised some questions about his durability.
But Jones was emphatic when asked if he had confidence in Ratliff to deliver this year.
"The nature of him – the type of player he is, and his makeup. His energy level, how he approaches the game, his style of play will allow him, when he's healthy, to be what he is," Jones said. "And he should be, from the standpoint of his physical health, he should be in the prime of his career."
The issue with older players, according to Jones , is that people try to evaluate how much time is left in a player's career. The Cowboys' focus with Ratliff appears to be on the present.
"There's no reason in the world – we handicap 32 and 31 because we're looking at how much is left past that," Jones said. "But as far as looking at physical attributes of the player, you can be a better player strength-wise or effectiveness at 30 as at 28 or 29."
It doesn't look likely that Ratliff is going to practice during the remaining week the Cowboys are in California. But Jones continued to preach patience – "I'm not concerned about him playing at the level we would expect until the season. I don't want to push anything in the preseason with him," he said.
After eight seasons, four Pro Bowl selections , 228 tackles and 27 career sacks, Jones said Ratliff has earned the benefit of the doubt. Just don't expect the Cowboys to rush the process during training camp.
"I just think that he can and should be and we should be – everybody should be totally confident. We don't need to push it," Jones said. "I'm real comfortable with that. If he hadn't been the person he's been or the player he's been, maybe I'd feel different."