DL Jay Ratliff: Making the Team

It's safe to assume Jay Ratliff doesn't have anything against Patrick Ramsey. But make no mistake, he's pulling for Jason Campbell.

Ratliff, snagged by Dallas in the seventh round of last month's NFL Draft, watched as four of his former Auburn teammates -- Campbell, cornerback Carlos Rogers and running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams -- were selected in the first round.

If his biggest disappointment last year was the fact that Auburn went undefeated and didn't get to play for the national championship, his second-greatest was the fact that he wasn't able to hit any of his high-profile teammates. OK, being a defensive back, Rogers wasn't on Ratliff's target list anyway, but in practice, the defense had a hands-off policy when it came to treatment of Campbell and his star running backs.

"Never," Ratliff said. "You're never allowed to touch the quarterback anyway, on any team. But at Auburn, Ronnie and Carnell -- they're the franchise players. They're the reasons we were winning so much. They were the stars. You don't hit them -- that's just the way it was."

Ratliff now has a chance -- finally -- to hit an old teammate. The Cowboys' 2005 schedule doesn't include the Miami Dolphins, which selected Brown with the draft's second pick, or the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, which chose Williams three picks later. But as NFC East rivals, the Redskins and Cowboys square off twice a year. Washington head coach Joe Gibbs has said that Ramsey will begin the season as the Redskins' starting quarterback, but if he falters, there will be a lot of clamoring from Washington fans for Campbell -- not listed second-stringer Mark Brunell -- to take the help of the Redskin offense. Gibbs is a loyal coach -- especially when it comes to quarterbacks -- who likely will not replace Ramsey (barring injury) before the Redskins and Cowboys square off Sept. 19 in the season's second game. But when the rematch rolls around Dec. 18? Who knows?

Ratliff has other worries first … like making the team.

In an era in which ideal defensive tackle prospects look a lot more like burly free agent signee Jason Ferguson than they do like La'Roi Glover, Ratliff is built -- and plays -- a lot more like the latter. Regardless of his actual size -- pre-draft reports listed the 6-foot-3 Ratliff at 275 pounds; the new Dallas roster lists him at 293 -- Ratliff has been viewed as almost an after thought from the Cowboys' draft that yielded likely immediate starters DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears in the first round. While he might be undersized for a defensive tackle -- especially in the 3-4 defense that most think the Cowboys will play some of the time, if not exclusively -- he is anything but ineffective. Ratliff posted 7 tackles and a sack last year, his second as a starter on a talent-laden Auburn defense. His effectiveness stems from strength, intensity and quickness (although many defensive tackles exceed 300 pounds, few interior linemen are quick as Ratliff and his 4.88 time in the 40-yard dash).

Despite his low-round selection and lack of jaw-dropping measurables, Ratliff clearly didn't seem awed by being on the same field with the team's marquee draftees, Ware and Spears.

"It's the same for everyone -- learn the plays, work hard," Ratliff said of mini-camp, "and make a good impression."

If Ratliff needed any evidence that being a rookie with the Cowboys isn't the same as being a stalwart on Auburn's defense, it became clear within minutes after he stepped on the field for the first time, when Dallas head coach Bill Parcells lobbed his first pointed verbal barb at one of his rookie hopefuls.

"Coach Parcells and (Auburn) Coach (Tommy) Tuberville are as different as anyone can be," Ratliff said. "In the time I played for him, I don't think I ever heard Coach Tuberville raise his voice -- once."

That assessment is one that might never be said -- particularly by a rookie -- about Parcells. But Ratliff is quick to point out that he doesn't mind. He's well aware of his status with the team, and realizes that his sole objective at this point has to be just making the team. If that means coming off the bench, playing special teams, etc., so be it.

Because if it works, he just might get a shot in December at his old friend in Washington.

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