With all the injuries the Dallas Cowboys have dealt with this summer, they finally got some good news on Thursday when owner Jerry Jones hinted that starting defensive tackle Jay Ratliff will be back for the season opener on September 8 against the New York Giants.
If Ratliff does indeed make it back for Week 1, he’ll give the defense a big improvement on the interior of the line. Last week in their preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Cowboys had Nick Hayden starting at Ratliff’s position, and George Selvie at defensive end filling in for the injured Anthony Spencer, who is also expected back for the first regular season game.
According to head coach Jason Garrett, Ratliff’s chances of getting any preseason game action are slim, which a good sign for the team even if it’s not usually a positive thing.
In recent years, Ratliff has constantly battled injuries, and he will need to stay healthy throughout the season if the defensive line is going to be anything like the team envisioned when new coordinator Monte Kiffin was brought in. Just last season, Ratliff dealt with separate injuries to his ankle and also had a sports hernia that needed surgery. This offseason, it’s been his hamstring that has kept him out of action.
When Ratliff has been healthy, he’s been a top-level defensive tackle in the NFL. He has been to four Pro Bowls as undersized nose tackle, and had 13.5 total sacks in 2008 and 2009, solid sack numbers for an interior lineman. He has dropped off even since that 2008 season though, all the way to just 2.0 sacks in 2011, which was his last full season. Last year, he missed 10 games.
Even though he has been in decline, a healthy Ratliff is still better than what the Cowboys have as other options at defensive tackle. Having him back healthy for the start of the season is good news, but in order for the defensive line as a whole to be successful, he’ll need to be healthy at the end of the season as well.
Jake Carapella is a Dallas Cowboys writer for RantSports. Follow him on twitter @JKCSports1.