Quiet star

SAN ANTONIO - The secret is out. Jay Ratliff was considered an afterthought, at best, when the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in 2005.

That draft was the same one in which they selected DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears, two players who were viewed as key additions as the team tried to bolster its defense.

But while Ware has become one of the elite defensive players in the entire NFL, and Spears has been a solid cog in the Dallas defense, Ratliff has emerged into a star, too. Drafted in the seventh round as a defensive end out of Auburn, Ratliff has bulked up to 302 pounds and slid inside to play nose tackle in the team's 3-4 defense. He has become widely recognized as one of the quickest and most talented interior defensive linemen in the entire league.

Head coach Wade Phillips has said Ratliff is as valuable to the Cowboys as any inside lineman in the league, but Ratliff humbly sidesteps any talk of where he ranks in the league's pecking order of defensive tackles. He said the entire defense, however, could be even better in 2009, and said one of the big reasons is the addition of free agent defensive end Igor Olshansky.

"He'll fit right in with this defense," Ratliff said of Olshansky. "He's been with Wade before, so he knows how it works and what's expected of him. He understands the schemes, so for a new guy, he's already ahead of the game. I'm pretty sure he'll be a great help and a great addition to our defense."

Olshansky replaces former Dallas defensive end Chris Canty, who left via free agency over the offseason to join the New York Giants. Canty was on the verge of becoming a star in his own right, but Ratliff said Olshansky is a more than capable replacement.

"There hasn't been much of a change — (Olshansky) just has to get used to our terminology, and what we say on the D-line," Ratliff said of the switch from Canty to Olshansky, adding that the rest of the defensive has offered help to their new defensive end in terms of absorbing the Dallas terminology, although he clearly needs little assistance.

"He's been in the league for a while. On the D-line, we don't do the whole rookie hazing thing. It's like ‘you're a man, before anything else, and we respect that and we respect you.' But if he asks a question, of course we answer. But he's not going to ask too many questions, because he already knows most of the stuff about this defense — he's played in it in San Diego. He's just working on the terminology, but he'll get that pretty quick."

Now a stalwart in the Dallas defense, Ratliff remains a quiet lead-by-example guy, who sees no need to be a regular voice in the locker room.

"No, my job is to just produce, to come out and just do my job, to make sure I'm in great shape and playing to the best of my ability," he said. "Now, if there's something that needs to be said, and nobody's saying anything, I'll say it, but I'm not really a rah-rah guy who's going to stand in front of the team. I'll pull some guys to the side and talk to them, if that needs to be done, but it's just between me and those guys — that's kind of how I operate.

"Most of the time, you'll never see that happen. We have a really professional group of guys here who have a lot of pride and take their jobs really seriously, so there's really not a lot of times that something has to be said, and when there is, we have guys who will say things."

Like the rest of the Cowboys, the memory of the disappointing end to last season remains in Ratliff's mind, but the 2008 Pro Bowler said that didn't alter or intensify his offseason training and preparation.

"Last year is over with," he said. "We didn't finish the way we wanted — everybody knows that — but as far as me training harder because of that, I train harder because I want to get better. I want to produce more and help the team as much as possible.

"Other guys are making that sacrifice and producing all that energy to improve as much as they possibly can, and I'm going to do the same thing."

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