For the second straight year, Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff couldn't participate in on-field work with teammates and coaches. Last year it was because of the lockout, and this year to give him some rest from a foot injury.
While Ratliff's own performance didn't seem to suffer too much in 2011 - he made his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl - most of the defensive players on this team agree that the work stoppage was not conducive to learning a new defense.
"We didn't have OTAs and all of that," Ratliff told KTCK-AM in Dallas on Wednesday. "We were learning on the fly. Rob (Ryan) has a high volume defense. There's a lot of things, a lot of terminology, we had to get used to."
This year, Ratliff said, there will be no way to justify things if the defense doesn't work out the kinks. However, he doesn't want teammates getting ahead of themselves thinking that anything has been accomplished just because the D is going into Year 2 with Ryan.
"This year there's no excuses," Ratliff said "We're not going to sit here and talk about what we're going to do this year or all the expectations everyone else has for us. I think the attitude this year needs to be we're going to be quiet. Well, to put it bluntly, we're going to shut up, not going to say a thing, and do our jobs.
"Honestly we don't have room to talk. The Giants are the Super Bowl champions. They're won two Super Bowls in the last five years. We just need to just be quiet and do our job. Nothing else."
In the Cowboys locker room, Ratliff is a shining example of quiet leadership, a player who rarely has much to say, but simply plays his position as well as anyone. It's a role he's grown into, rising up the depth chart after being picked in the seventh round in 2005, and later taking over the starting nose tackle job in 2007.
Despite seemingly annual concerns over Ratliff's chances for longevity playing as an undersized nose, he says he personally feels as strong and athletic as he did when he was younger, but his mentality has changed with age.
"You really want to take advantage of these moments," Ratliff said. "The window is kind of closing, you're in your 30s. The way this business is, that's kind of old or whatever. Again, I don't feel old, but I think the word I'm looking for is 'urgency.'"
If Ratliff acknowledges that time is running out for himself and the Cowboys' other centerpieces to win in a big way, it's probably a sentiment that is not lost on his teammates.