IRVING, Texas –For the last six years, Jay Ratliff has listened to critics call him undersized, playing nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme.
For all but two of those seasons, he finished the year in the Pro Bowl.
Now, with the Cowboys moving to a 4-3 scheme, there is a question about just how the 31-year-old might fit in this new system.
But just like he's done since 2007, Ratliff downplays the move, simply stating that he's a football player who feels like he can adjust to any defense, any scheme and any position.
"At the end of the day, it's football," Ratliff said. "We've played the 3-4 all these years but we had a nickel package. This adjustment shouldn't be a problem. It's not that much of a difference."
While Ratliff has kept rather quiet in the media the past two seasons, and particularly this offseason, he could only chuckle when asked about switching positions.
"As far as moving (positions), that's something we start every season with. Everyone says the same thing about this time, it's been that way for about nine years, now?" Ratliff said. "I still have the same feeling about it – wherever they need me that's where I'm going to play."
The Cowboys apparently need him right in the middle at one of the two defensive tackle spots. He'll likely start out as the one-technique, which once again is typically assigned to players with a bigger frame than his listed 6-4, 303-pound stature.
But like he's done in the past, Ratliff has overcome the size differences with a style of tenacity that is hard to match. He also does it with technique, something he's worked with this offseason with new defensive line coach, Rod Marinelli.
"He's definitely a player's coach. He coaches everyone the same way," Ratliff said of Marinelli, who came over from Chicago, where he served as defensive coordinator the last three years. "He has high expectations. Whether you're a rookie or well-seasoned vet, he gives everyone the same amount of effort and time. He's open to everyone's questions. I think he controls the room really well because everyone respects him."
Ratliff said it didn't take long for the entire defensive line room to jump on board with Marinelli's approach.
"That's a credit to him, more than anything," Ratliff said. "That's why everyone listens to him and respects him. Everyone believes in what he's teaching. They know he knows the game. We look forward to working with him."
Whether he has a new coach or not, Ratliff said he's just excited about getting back on the field. The 2012 season was frustrating from start to finish. He missed a lot of training camp with a nagging foot injury, then sustained a high-ankle sprain in his first preseason game. After missing the first four games, Ratliff played well in his return, but then a groin injury that required sports hernia surgery shelved him for the final six games. [embedded_ad]
That, coupled with a DWI arrest on Jan. 22 and speculation he might be a salary-cap casualty, kept Ratliff's future with the Cowboys up in the air. However, through it all, owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett have emphatically reiterated not only Ratliff's spot on the roster, but his importance as a defensive stalwart.
Ratliff seems eager to prove them right.
"I'm definitely ready to get back o the field," Ratliff said. "Most definitely. I'm excited about that. When it comes around, I'll be ready."