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Friday, May 30, 2008

Jay Ratliff: Still something to prove

NT Jay Ratliff's relentless drive played a major role in earning the former seventh-round pick an $8 million signing bonus. Don't expect his motor to slow down just because his bank account has added a zero.

"Matter of fact, it makes me hungrier," Ratliff said during a break from teaching high school players swim and rip moves at a Reebok STACK Elite Tour clinic Thursday evening. "I came in with a chip on my shoulder, trying to prove that I belong in this league. Now it's pretty much the same thing, but I'm trying to prove that [the contract] wasn't a mistake."

The 6-4, 298-pound Ratliff, who moved from DE when Jason Ferguson went down with a season-ending injury in the opener, doesn't have a prototypical frame for a 3-4 nose tackle. But he's a good fit in Wade Phillips' one-gap scheme, which requires linemen to use their quickness to disrupt plays instead of simply occupying blockers. That was clear before Tank Johnson played a down for Dallas.

The proof is in Ratliff's performance. He anchored a run defense that ranked sixth in the league, made three sacks and led the team's defensive linemen in QB pressures (15), passes defensed (four) and fumble recoveries (two).

Oh, and he's probably the best nose tackle in the league at dropping back into pass coverage (and the only one who played safety in high school). Crazy as it sounds, Ratliff's ability to cover underneath zones is a valuable tool in Phillips' blitz packages.

Ratliff's combination of athleticism and attitude -- he lives by the motto his minister father hammered into his head: "Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might" -- convinced Jerry to ensure that he'd be a key cog in the Cowboys' defense for years.

Becoming a multimillionaire didn't change Ratliff as a person, other than giving him the means to really spoil his two daughters. But it did alter his motivation.

He's answered the questions about whether he could play in the NFL. Now he's determined to prove that it wasn't a fluke

Dallas Morning News:

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