The most important part of each season may be the daily practice grind in July and August, when a team is truly built. As a countdown to this year's training camp, we celebrate the 53rd year of Cowboys football by constructing the team's all-time 53-man roster, picking one player from each season.
Not so much the 53 best players in club history, DallasCowboys.com has constructed the ultimate team, filling out the depth chart and making room for contributors at every position, including special teams, while at the same time looking ahead to how this year's 53-man roster might shake out.
The series continues today with 2008 and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff
Name: Jay Ratliff
Position: Defensive Tackle
Cowboys Tenure: 2005-present
Why Him? This is the type of player every team needs. It doesn't matter what level of play, from high school to the pros or even a fictional team like the Ultimate 53, but a guy with the tenacity and a mean streak such as Ratliff is always a plus. Throw in his strength, athleticism, awareness and overall skill and you've got one of the best defensive linemen in the game today, and one of the best in franchise history. Ratliff was a seventh-round pick from Auburn in 2005 – the same draft that saw four of his college teammates go in the first round. But it's safe to say Ratliff has been better than Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Carlos Rodgers and Jason Campbell ... possibly even combined. That group doesn't have four Pro Bowls like Ratliff, who has been selected in each of the last four years. While he's somewhat undersized to play a natural nose tackle in the 3-4, Ratliff has definitely made it work. He wins most one-on-one battles in the trenches because of his quick first step and his relentless style of play. Over the years, he's also turned into one of the team's best leaders, both with his play on the field and vocally.
The Role: For the current defense, the Cowboys rely heavily on Ratliff's ability to man the middle and his leadership skills, which have increased over the years. Ratliff is the type of player the younger guys look up to. On this Ultimate 53, obviously Ratliff will be one of many leaders and great players. His role will be a backup nose tackle to Randy White, who played in a 4-3 scheme and isn't the perfect fit for the 3-4. Some would say Ratliff isn't either but he's made it fit for the last five seasons.
Back To The Future: Ratliff still has a few more good years left in him so it's obviously not time to replace him. Still, the Cowboys are always looking for Jay Ratliff clones and perhaps, just maybe, they could have someone similar in Sean Lissemore. For starters, both were seventh-round picks who made the team because of their athleticism, versatility and upside. Both were injured during their rookie season, but have shown nothing but productivity since then. As Ratliff's career developed, he went from end to nose tackle and as of last year, Lissemore started to play more nose once Josh Brent got injured. Even though Ratliff played about 450 more defensive snaps, last year's snaps were similar. Both Ratliff and Lissemore had two sacks and Ratliff only had a small edge in overall tackles at 42-39. Ratliff did have 18 quarterback pressures to just five for Lissemore. It's a stretch to think Lissemore will develop into a four-time Pro Bowler, but we would've thought the same about Ratliff back in 2005.